Monday, September 29, 2008

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap have much to discuss: The Palin interviews, the Palin-Biden debate, the failure, success and failure of the Bush Administration's plan to rescue what used to be Wall Street and the first McCain-Obama debate.  They also announce the first Red State Update Town Hall Meeting.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Live Zeebop this week

Live Zeebop this week . . .

We are off this week at LaFerme for Rosh Hashanah. We'll be back next week, October 6 and the three Mondays after that, October 13th, 20th and 27th.

Wednesday night we'll be at Pap and Peteys, 5th and H Sts., NE. Three sets of straight-ahead jazz, served with a slice of funk, from 8-11p.m. Read about Pap and Petey's and Zeebop here, featured recently in On Tap Magazine , and here, on Frozen Tropics blog.

Zeebop is Mark Caruso, guitar; Gregg Ivers, drums, and Justin Parrott, bass.

As always, thanks for your support.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What next for McCain?


Far fetched? Perhaps not.

Click here (from Slate).

Steely Dan, ahead of the curve, as always

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, popular music's most creative songwriters after John Lennon and Paul McCartney, wrote "Black Friday" 23 years ago. Perhaps Henry Paulson should make it his mantra in the coming days. Steely Dan would add credibility to Paulson's demands -- Fagen and Becker are both Democrats.


When Black Friday comes
I'll stand down by the door
And catch the grey men when they
Dive from the fourteenth floor
When Black Friday comes
I'll collect everything I'm owed
And before my friends find out
I'll be on the road
When Black Friday falls you know it's got to be
Don't let it fall on me

When Black Friday comes
I'll fly down to Muswellbrook
Gonna strike all the big red words
From my little black book
Gonna do just what I please
Gonna wear no socks and shoes
With nothing to do but feed
All the kangaroos
When Black Friday comes I'll be on that hill
You know I will

When Black Friday comes
I'm gonna dig myself a hole
Gonna lay down in it 'til
I satisfy my soul
Gonna let the world pass by me
The Archbishop's gonna sanctify me
And if he don't come across
I'm gonna let it roll
When Black Friday comes
I'm gonna stake my claim
I'll guess I'll change my name

Advantage . . . Biden

Okay, okay, okay, so Joe Biden "misspoke" when he told reporters that F.D.R. reassured a nervous nation on television after the nation's stock markets crashed in October 1929 that we had no need to fear the lack of fear that fear instills in nervous people, who can only fear fear when it is fearful. Naturally, the mainstream media had fun with ole' Joe, retreating to the conventional wisdom that the Delaware senator talks too much and would benefit from an occasional deep breath and solicitous pause to think before he rewrites history or talks about a recent visit to a deceased constituent . . .

and forgets to attribute his comments to Al Gore.

The truth is that Biden, by "misspeaking," was honoring the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who "misspoke" repeatedly throughout her campaign, only to have such small matters as her concern for voiceless "white voters" and her and her daughter's James Bond-like daring-do to hammer out an agreement between displaced soccer officials in Bosnia treated blown way out of proportion, as if a Clinton would ever do anything like that.

All you need to do is read between the lines, wherever those lines might be.

* * * * * * * * * *

I just watched Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin. I stopped laughing about 2 minutes into the 8:10 long segment after I realized that she could be president of the United States. I wanted to start crying, but I was in a strange place . . . somewhere between laughing and passing out from shock. Never in my voting lifetime have I ever seen someone so spectacularly unqualified to run on a presidential ticket. Dan Quayle, Palin's closest competitor, was out of his depth, for sure, when President Bush I chose him in 1988. But Quayle, contrary to what many of his detractors believed then (and probably still do) wasn't stupid. I had several friends who covered him here and there during the 1988 campaign, and a couple spent time with him after he became vice-president. Not one told me that he resembled the dimwit that Democrats had worked so hard to portray him as once they spent a little time with him. No, he wasn't a Mensa candidate. But so what? Most people aren't.

Palin is a different story. It wasn't just viewers who couldn't figure out what she was talking about. I don't think Palin understood a damn thing she said. If she did, that's even more frightening.

You can watch the interview here.

Joe Biden has some breathing room now. Hell, he can talk all he wants about Abraham Lincoln's strikeout of Hank Aaron when he threw out the first ball of the 1796 MLB season all he wants and still . . . still come nowhere close to Palin's interview with Couric.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Joe Biden, meet Sarah Palin

One doesn't know when the Pledge of Allegiance was written or amended to include the phrase "under God." The other one doesn't know who was president at the time the stock market crashed or when television was invented.

Dan Quayle, you are getting better and better as time goes by.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Opaque transparency

One of the first things I noticed after moving to Washington 20 years ago -- other than, of course, the ubiquity of Volvo station wagons, men who wore, without the slightest trace of embarrassment, Timex Ironman watches and soft-soled Rockports with their with suits, women who dressed like librarians or camp counselors or nature guides and what seemed like an eternal quest by men and women who wore Timex Ironman watches and dressed like nature guides to make their lives resemble as closely as possible a pictorial essay from the L.L. Bean catalogue -- were the verbal tics that crept into the public pronouncements of the very important people governing and instructing the country.

From late 1989 until sometime into late 1995, the word "Draconian" became the adjective of choice for every public official, commentator, talking head, journalist, Washington Post-appointed "expert," academic wanting visibility in the media, lobbyist and all-purpose Washington Insider.

"A conservative Supreme Court would have a Draconian impact on reproductive rights," a liberal pro-choice activist might say.

"The Bush tax increases will have a Draconian impact on economic growth," a Heritage Foundation economist would moan.

"A government shutdown will have Draconian consequences for the distribution of government services," a concerned non-partisan official from the partisan Congressional Budget Office would warn.

"Unless we form a bi-partisan commission to determine how to best resolve the use of the word Draconian, we will end up with a Draconian mess that will stall the legislative process," . . . this, according to Norman Ornstein, Resident Fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

And on and on and on . . . until one day when the word Draconian just sort of left the vocabulary of the nation's capital. Every once in a while, some expert or former administration official yapping away on CNN might use the word Draconian to describe this or that, say the president's annual proposal to privatize social security or invade a foreign country, with Canadian marijuana growers pushing their country onto the danger list. But people might just look at him in the way that Washington insiders look at a woman with a hemline above the knee or a 43 year-old man who still likes rock music and doesn't mind admitting he thinks that motorcycle chicks are secretly hot or a well-informed, independent-minded person who believed Tim Russert was a probably a pretty nice guy who loved his wife and son, but was less a journalist than an effective game show host. That kind of, "Oh, really?" look or comment that really says you can't be serious or that knowing look between two up-and-coming Washington Ken and Barbie Dolls that confirms their mutual belief that the new 22 year-old intern with the killer 4" stiletto heels collection was probably the campus slut because she shopped at Banana Republic instead of ordering from the Land's End catalogue and doesn't own a pair of really ugly ergonomic water moccasins that fuse the worst of ballerina slippers with children's corrective shoes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Washington's new favorite word, in case you haven't noticed, is "transparent." To be transparent is a good thing. Government programs must be transparent, as must be the decision-making process that led to those programs. Transparency is good when we talk about budgets, finances, campaign laws, inspector general reports, batting averages, nutritional information, the amount of actual fruit juice in fruit juice cocktails and the active ingredient in over-the-counter sinus medication. Much like "deconstruction" was the buzzword in academia in the 1980s and the phrase "path dependence" was in the 1990s, "transparent" has become the preferred verbal currency of those in-the-know in the 2000s, especially for those concerned about "the process." But there is a key difference between "deconstruction" and "path dependence" on the one hand, and "transparent" on the other: the first two words have an academic component while "transparent" is used not to breakdown or analyze the family unit or explain why some states provide more or less social benefits than others. Transparent enters the vocabulary when administrators, whether Treasury secretaries, Federal Reserve chairmen or colleges presidents and deans are attempting to reassure their subjects that the Draconian steps they are about to take to resolve a financial crisis or deny an assistant professor tenure are taken in full public view so that we can all see and understand what is about to happen.

That's the difference. What those words have in common is that they don't really mean anything at all. They just sound like they do.

Earlier this week, Secretary Henry Paulson attempted to reassure the few dozen people not preoccupied with the National League wildcard race or Britney Spears reconcilation with her mother that the government-led bailout of Wall Street would not come at the expense of transparency. But, when you include these kinds of powers for yourself in the legislation, how much does remaining transparent really matter?

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

That's transparent all right. You think the Commissioner of Baseball's power to take any action in the best interest of major league baseball is impressive? How about having complete decision-making power over the nation's investment sector and barring anyone from challenging anything you do in court? Even putting aside the fact that the payrolls of the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers are probably close, over a 2-3 year period, to the $700 billion being floated as the initial starting point of the government's financial commitment to reward the Titans of Industry who refused to wear their seat belts, bike helmets, flotation devices before heading into the wild, the Treasury Secretary, under this legislation, would have almost half as much power as Dick Cheney or my nine-and-a-half year-old teen-age daughter.

So transparent is Paulson's determination to centralize authority in himself -- forget just one or two federal agencies -- that it can only be described as "Draconian."

There you have it. A new phrase for the 2010's: Draconian transparency.

You heard it here first. Now, I think I'll go buy a new Volvo and spruce up my fall wardrobe with a new red polar fleece vest.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

The 80% rule, explained

Yesterday's New York Times magazine is devoted to the current state of teaching on college campuses. The magazine has a number of articles to recommend, but one in particular, "Judgment Day," by Mark Oppenheimer, is worth reading first. Oppenheimer's piece reviews the pros but mostly cons of the now-institutionalized method of relying solely on student evaluations of professors to determine "teaching effectiveness." Read that article, and then compare it with my post of July 2007 on the same topic.

More on this later.

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap review the week's events, including the "lipstick on a pig" comment, the liberal media's continuing dissing of Sarah Palin, Oprah's bad attitude towards Palin and attempt to figure out exactly what the hell Ralph Nader meant by "anal flutter."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Live Zeebop this week

Live Zeebop this week . . .

Tomorrow, Monday, September 22nd, at LaFerme in Chevy Chase, Md. 7101 Brookville Rd. 6.30-9.30. Dinner not necessary on Mondays.

Wednesday, September 24th, Pap and Peteys, 5th and H Sts., NE, Washington, D.C. Three sets from 8-11 p.m.

Thursday, September 25th, I'll be appearing with the Pablo Grabiel Trio, Clare and Dons, Falls Church, Va., at the corner of Washington St. and Lee Highway, next to the State Theatre. Three sets from 7-10 p.m.

Zeebop is presented by Grabielismo Productions.

As always, thanks for your support.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dear Secretary Paulson . . .

Dear Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke:

I know you are extremely busy right now trying to salvage the nation's financial, insurance, banking, real estate and investment markets and the companies that operate them. I appreciate the hard work you are putting into finding solutions to what is without a doubt the greatest threat to our political economy since the Great Depression. Sometimes, I think the American public demands problem-solving skills more akin to a superhero than tireless public servants like yourselves, who can only do what they can do and hope it works for the best. I have tried to get my head around the current crisis, which a friend of mine, who attempted to explain all this to me at pick-up time at our children's school yesterday, calls "a perfect economic storm."Imagine, he said, natural disasters occurring simultaneously in five different parts of the country that all managed to come together at once. I tried to imagine that, gentlemen, I really did. But I'm not one of those guys who rides out the storm, stocks up the pantry, buys duct tape or nails board to his windows when bad weather or a potential terrorist threat is on the horizon. I clean out my gutters, grab my iPod and head to the nearest hotel until my cable and Internet access are restored. I take my cell phone so that I can call and check on my family, which, unless I can find a hotel that has a family special or free guest program, I leave behind just to make sure that no one steals anything and to clean out the basement should it flood.

My friend corrected me, saying he wasn't trying to explain how to survive a perfect storm. "Markets this, capital formation that, housing value this, liquidity that," he said, gesturing his hands like the excited finance professor that he isn't. "And, when you take into account short calls and long calls, this regulation and that regulation, and the lack of this regulation or that one, plus the absence of a leap year, it all comes together like that . . . BAM!"

"BAM!" I said. "I haven't watched Emeril Live! since my daughter lost interest in cooking shows. But maybe I'll tune in so I can attempt to talk the bank out of taking my house, car, iPod or my prize Pork Pie snare drums."

"You're still not getting !" he said, growing impatient with me. I knew the look he was giving me, since it was nearly identical to the look I give my students when they look at me like, "WTF?" when I attempt to explain the intracies of the nationalization of the First Amendment to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. "I need to get going," he said. "Just pay attention. You'll get it."

Concerned that I might lose my hockey sticks, CD collection, or Tom Glavine autographed 1991 World Series baseball, which he signed, free of charge, before Game 1 in Minneapolis, I asked my wife to explain your plan to save our nation's Masters of the Universe from themselves. There was an upside to this. My wife is a financial and accounting wizard, and has degrees from one of the nation's most elite business schools and years of receipts in shoe boxes all over our house to prove it. She also has thousands of shoes in shoe boxes all over our house, including my old home office and bedroom closets that converted long ago to her storage facilities. When we run tight on space, I suggest to her that perhaps we throw some stuff out or have a yard sale. "Think about it," I'll say. "We could have a mall in our front yard. We could establish a directory, just like at Montgomery Mall. Women's accessories, women's shoes, women's casual clothing, women's formal wear, children's toys, books, men's sporting goods, unopened birthday presents, used wrapping paper, expired coupons, unread Sunday newspaper inserts, yard signs endorsing politicians no longer eligible to hold public office, broken lawn maintenance equipment, more women's shoes, scarves, belts, jewelry, tops, bottoms, swimwear . . ."

Her response? "Are you using the top shelf in your closet? That space is just going to waste."

And before you know it, the top shelf in my closet has been converted into a climate-controlled storage facility for the thousands of crayons obtained from cereal companies that my children will never use. But, because there is an ever so slender chance that a grandchild might one day want to draw on the floor in what used to be my office, we need to keep them. I'll question this decision, to no avail.

"Just in case," she'll say.

Those three words rank just behind, for most men, the four most dreaded words in relationship-maintenance -- "We need to talk."

Waddaya gonna do?

So, my wife started to explain the current crisis to me. "Market this, bond issue that, capital dissolution this, credit devalulation this," she explained, not waving her arms but talking out of one side of her mouth while she watched "The Daily Show." "It's really not that complicated to figure out."

Actually, for people like me, as you probably have guessed Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke, it is that complicated to figure out. After a few minutes of more "debt-equity ratio this, secondary markets that," I started to fade, sort of like the time I fell asleep during a meeting with our attorney to refinance the interest rate on our mortgage. One minute, I'm enjoying a chocolate covered cream filled donut and coffee; the next minute I'm getting elbowed in the ribs and being asked to initial some sort of legal documents. Personally, I wasn't offended at all by my nap. There wasn't anything I could really add to the meeting, and there's nothing I hate more than someone who just goes on and on and one about topics they know nothing about. But, just to make nice and move things along, I signed the papers and grabbed a second donut, a peanut covered one that was really good and the kind I don't get to eat often because my son is allergic to peanuts.

"You really don't get this?" my wife asked, mystified, it appeared, by my inability to grasp complex financial arrangements. "Were you even awake while I was explaining this to you?"

"Yes, I was awake and, no, I don't get it," I answered. I then told her that my response to her mini-lecture on cost accounting and complex capital formation was no different than hers when I tried to explain to her how to turn on the oven, use the washing machine, close a cereal box and return it to the pantry or how to use the cleaning products that I keep under the kitchen sink (after I Mapquested for her how to find the kitchen sink. How many husbands are that considerate?).

Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke, you guys know what happened next, right? After all, you've been married a long time. When someone says marriage penalty to you, you think tax code, don't you? When someone says marriage penalty to me, I think of an invitation from the offended party to go have sex with myself, and not in the same ways that the Planned Parenthood literature in our house says is the safe alternative to intercourse or oral sex (Oops, is that okay? We can have the literature in house as long as we don't show it to our children? Am I allowed to say "oral sex" or "intercourse?" Please advise).

As you can probably guess by now -- I was going to say "surmise," but that might come across as elitist, and I definitely don't be lumped in with all the other well-educated professionals who attempt to stay fluent in our nation's currents events and cultural debates, I agree that our government works best when we have the least accomplished people we can possibly find running it. For example, I think you should randomly select an inexperienced small-town mayor who attended four colleges in six years, including such undistinguished institutions as Hawaii Pacific College, Matanuska-Sustina College, North Idaho College and the University of Idaho, with no background in economics, finance or law to develop a plan that will meet the needs of taxpayers, regulators and the private sector that keeps profit private while managing to nationalize losses. That makes good sense to me. Over the summer, our air conditioning went out during a terrible heat wave. As I was packing up for the Hyatt in downtown Bethesda, I told my family, which was staying behind to wait for the HVAC people, that we should find someone from the Westminister, Maryland city council to come fix it. We could call any number of professional tradespeople, but that would simply reinforce the elitism that is endemic in the heating and air conditioning communities. The last time our friend Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration came to repair our hot water heater, he was drinking from a Starbucks cup, a cup which had writing all over it, meaning he had asked for extra shots, no foam, organic cream or some other fu-fu add-in that stunk of elitism. "No way!" I said, as I loaded my 42" plasma television into the rear seat of my non-hybrid car. "Find a damn real American, one that Bill Kristol, David Brooks, George Will and Charles Krauthammer bowl with on Thursday nights. Or are you all too good for that?"

Turns out that Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration did come and fix the air conditioning. Boy, was I pissed. "Does this make you feel better about living in Bethesda now?" I screamed (and scream I did). "We'll never get this nation on track if we decide to elect well-trained, smart and capable people to address our problems and exert leadership on matters of national and international importance. You might think our nation is ready for a black president, but this financial crisis just demonstrates, all your little "love our Mother Earth" babbling aside, that we're not. Now I know what all those people mean who've been asking and discussing that question. Do any of them remember how long it took the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series after Bob Gibson joined the starting rotation and Lou Brock began hitting lead-off? And what the hell did Curt Flood's hissy-fit accomplish?"

They had no answer. How could they? They've never had to live with elitists, much less grow up in that environment.

Henry and Paul -- since I now own shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and probably most of the other companies that sponsor golf tournaments, excluding Pfizer, of course, I feel comfortable calling you both by your first and hopefully Christian names -- I know where John McCain, Sarah Palin and work-a-day stiffs like Rush Limbaugh are coming from when they warn Americans of the "elitist crowd." I grew up in Atlanta, the son of a small retailer and nurse. My sister and I lived in a house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, all of which were inside. We had appliances that worked most of the time and one television in our den. I enjoyed the television, I sure did. My sister, though, developed a strange twitch watching it, as she could never quite keep her head still when the picture began dissolving into fuzz or the frames started "blinking" at us. I tried to help my sister by standing awkwardly next to the TV, with one hand on the antenna and with the the other arm pointing north at a 62 degree angle. We suggested to our parents that they buy a new television. Spoiled, overindulged children that we were, they finally did, three years later. You can only imagine the embarrassment I felt when my friends came over to find a working television. The stories they told their parents about how rich we were, about how my mom wrapped my sandwiches for school lunches in wax paper rather than cram them into too-small sandwich bags . . . it hurts to even think about it. And every time we road our bikes up to Toco Hills to buy candy at the Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store, they expected me to pop for the Pez dispenser replacements because I had a Schwinn 10 speed while most of them had Huffys.

I attended public elementary and high schools, where I tried to compensate for my well-to-do upbringing by doing as little school work as possible. I thought I might fit in with my friends who bragged about getting jobs one day riding on the back of a garbage truck so they could work outside or starting some sort of business, like opening a used record store that doubled as a head shop, so they could stay "connected" all the time and get free albums. Instead, the teachers wrote note after note home to my parents asking them to kick me in the ass so I would stop wasting my "talent." My parents wrote the teachers back, asking to know what exactly this "talent" was that I was so hell-bent on wasting. The teachers didn't cite any specific "talent" in their return volleys (these are now done, from what my concerned-and-involved parent friends tell me, through email and something called "EdLine," a school-sponsored website that allows you to see on-line in real time your childrens' grades and assignments that they were supposed to have turned in). I think they were more concerned that if was going to spend my class time debating the merits of Led Zeppelin vs. Yes, that I do so in a less disruptive manner.

I also played community sports growing up, and for five or six years I played on a "travel" team that had matching uniforms and played on fields with grass infields and dirt base paths, rather than just rock fields with some play sand thrown down when we hosted a team from out of state. I then went to public universities that had dormitories with indoor bathrooms and classrooms with electrical outlets. One university I attended offered multiple foreign languages that you could take for credit and, as much as I hate to admit this, major in, if you so chose.

In college, I never had one of these unpaid office jobs making coffee and fetching sandwiches, jobs that modern universities call "internships" and permit their students to take for credit. I had jobs that you would expect a spoiled little preppy boy like me to have: I worked as a waiter and house cleaner for a sorority house. I worked in restaurant, fraternity and sorority kitchens. I had a job with Division 1 athletic departments "tutoring" "student-athletes," where I was expected to take their tests, not merely minister to them on the importance of a college education or clear up their confusion on the marginal rate of diminishing return or bi-cameralism in state legislatures. "I don't need no degree," one prominent basketball player once told me. "Fuck that shit. I'm going to the pros. Just help me pass. I'll give you $20 to write this paper for me."

I thought about it, I really did. But in the end, that field trip I took with my journalism class to a local prison pretty much scared me off a life of crime. I knew, right then and there, that I could never do the time.

But I did absorb one lesson: What was the point of an education? What did I really need to know about the erotic component of the Socratic dialogues, or how photosynthesis worked in artificially maintained desert gardens? Really, who gave a shit? "Fuck that shit!" was right.

A summer in a cushy internship, where I drove and drove around town in a car without air conditioning after picking up my boss's drycleaning before getting his lunch and washing his girlfriend's car, persuaded me that I should pursue a graduate degree so I wouldn't have to work in an air-conditioned office in a job with benefits after I graduated. "Fuck that shit," I kept hearing my former tutoree, who, I gathered, ended up playing in the NBA under an assumed name because I never heard another word about or from him again, say to me.

So I went to graduate school for a Ph.D., since I figured this would take longer than a law degree or MBA to complete. After nine years of higher education, I racked up a $12,500 debt, which I paid back, to the penny, over a ten year period, after being told by my graduate advisor that Emory had invoked a little-known codicil in its charter to prohibit me from doing another Ph.D. Of course it did. Emory is a wealthy, private school that is steeped in the culture of elitism. Many of their professors are nationally and internationally recognized scholars and practitioners. Its students are drawn from some of the most elite high schools in the country. Libraries, fresh flowers and marble benches adorn the campus. The preferred soft drink is Coca-Cola, because a substantial part of its wealth has come from the Woodruff family, which owns our nation's oldest and most stuck-up beverage company.

"Give me a fucking R.C. Cola and Moonpie," I yelled one night, after being dragged from the main library after attempting to organize a book burning. "Fucking bunch of snobs, you all are. Get out and get a real fucking job, like running a multi-billion dollar company into the ground and then successfully demanding that taxpayers subsidize your losses while privatizing the profits. Let's see if you can call that "justifiable intervention" and then convince Americans without health insurance or access to your fucking elite schools that redistributing health care and education more equitably is socialism. Arrest me, you bastards! Oh, and let me guess, you'll probably have a "Hope and Change" or "Obama 08" sign in your yard 2o years from now. Yeah, well fuck you!"

I haven't heard from Emory since and have not once seen my name mentioned in its magazine's "Notable Alumni Accomplishments" section. Right back at you. I supposed my fine graduate school is just soooooooooo ashamed of having one of its Ph.D's teach at a university that only ranks 67 places behind them in the US News survey, even though everyone at my university knows that American is probably the best school in the world. Why else would those who run it have so little interest in the opinions of the people who teach there? Huh? That's right.

Henry and Ben (did I say Paul before? My bad), I think you guys are doing great. The next time someones gasps "$85 billion for AIG," you tell them, "Hey, that's just two months and change for the Iraq War. Who's winning that one?"

You know, I could worry myself about this one, but, as a college friend once told me, "Fuck that shit." I'm going to write an angry letter to the referee who botched a call in an NFL game that, unless you're a big gambler, probably won't result in anyone losing their job or having their house foreclosed or watching their life savings disappear. Better yet, I'm going to travel around the country warning elitists about the consequences of having an educated leadership accountable to the public, when the real answer is to find a successful street vendor, fly him or her to New York or Washington or Baghdad and turn his or her "average American-ness" loose on the world. Or go buy some Keno tickets, something I've never done but believe now might be a good idea.

Here's my advice: stop all this talk about "capital formation this, debt-to-equity ratio that," and call up some Republican celebrities and musicians, like Dennis Miller, Pat Boone and Mike Huckabee, and stage a telethon for Wall Street. We did that for Katrina victims, and that worked out well. We have private groups raising funds for displaced and maimed war veterans and their families, and that's a program that just isn't getting the credit it deserves. All I ask in exchange for this help is a $3,000 check to offset the cost of my son's upcoming hockey season, my daughter's dance and art classes and my wife's shoe collection. A small bailout considering the importance that I have, as a recovering elitist, in our political economy.

Gregg Ivers

P.S. I don't tell people I'm a professor. I tell them I'm in the education trades.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin, historian

Two years ago, Sarah Palin was asked, in a questionnaire submitted to her by the Eagle Forum, the conservative organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly over 30 years ago to campaign against the ERA, whether she was offended by the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Her answer?

"Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers (emphasis added), it's good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance."

Interesting. The phrase "under God" wasn't inserted into the Pledge until 1954, just as the Cold War was hardening between the United States and the Soviet Union. And the Pledge itself wasn't written until 1892 and not recognized by the federal government as our nation's official "pledge" until the early 1940s, although it was commonly required in public schools from about World War I forward.

Oh, who cares? Right. It's not like Barack Obama made such a careless statement. Then we'd have something to worry about -- a black man willfully ignorant of his nation's history. Sarah Palin should be grateful she's not black . . . then she'd actually have to explain herself, especially to the right-winger commentators so enamored with her candidacy.

Hockey moms against Sarah Palin

The silent majority of moms with children who play hockey speak out against Sarah Palin, a self-professed "hockey mom."

Remember, there is a difference . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Then you should have said something . . .

John McCain, economic soothsayer . . . from the Washington Monthly.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Tuesday called for a high-level commission to study the current economic crisis and claimed that a corrupt and excessive Wall Street had betrayed American workers. [...]

Appearing Tuesday on the three network morning shows, McCain said there was indeed a financial crisis and that to understand what had caused it, the nation would need a review on the order of the one led by the Sept. 11 commission. [...]

"I warned two years ago that this situation was deteriorating and unacceptable," McCain said on "Good Morning America" on ABC. "And the old-boy network and the corruption in Washington is directly involved and one of the causes of this financial crisis that we're in today. And I know how to fix it and I know how to get things done."
I know you. You're the kid in my class who has the answer to everything, except that you never raise your hand. Or worse, you're the kid in my class who won't stop raising your hand even though you haven't opened a book or offered anything interesting to say. You're the kid in my class who tells me I'm unfair, arrogant, stupid, uppity, too into myself, biased . . . ad naseum, because I asked you to explain or defend some talking-point you repeated verbatim from your Hill internship that, well, you just couldn't. You're the kid in my class who whispers under your breath to your buddy how stupid everyone else or what pussies they are because they don't want to "kick ass" or turn some country into a "parking lot." You're the kid that rolls your eyes when someone else makes a well thought-out point because you don't believe they're entitled to express an opinion. You're the kid whose never had a job yet demands that everyone else get off their ass and go to work and stop looking for a government handout . . . except if you work on Wall Street or the mortgage sector, in which case your services (and house full of expensive toys) are simply too valuable to let disappear. You're the kid that uses the pronoun "we" to describe the current administration's brainless decision-making, as in, "We believe in the free market, not some old USSR five-year plan," even though you have government subsidized loans that allow you to attend college and enjoy numerous government-subsidized benefits that you haven't bothered to learn are, indeed, government subsidized.

If John McCain knows the answers to so much, why won't he tell us what they are? After all, his 30 years in Washington as part of the "old boys" network he now condemns, and his experience as part of government corruption in the Keating 5 scandal certainly qualifies him to know a scam when he sees one.

Better yet, ask Sarah Palin. I'm sure she would more than hold her own in a discussion with Barack Obama and Joe Biden about the causes of our country's economic meltdown and offer numerous creative solutions about how to get out of it.

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap discuss Sarah Palin's relationship with the media, and gather up celebrity commentary on McCain's vice-presidential nominee.

Make sure to catch all the adventures of Jackie and Dunlap on Red State Update. You can also find their past episodes on You Tube.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Maude Flanders for Vice-President?

Live Zeebop this week

Live Zeebop this week . . .

Monday, September 15th, LaFerme from 6.30-9.30 p.m. We'll be there next week, September 22nd, then off September 29th for Yom Kippur, then back beginning on October 6th through October 27th.

Wednesday, September 17th, Pap and Peteys from 8-11 p.m.

Friday night, September 19th, Clare and Dons from 7-10 p.m.

Thank you for coming out to the Adams Morgan Day Festival earlier this afternoon. We had a great time and we again express our thanks to the D.C. government and organizers for having us down at Kalorama Park. We would like to thank our friend Pablo Grabiel for his hard work on behalf of all the great bands that played throughout the day.

Zeebop is presented by Grabielismo Productions.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Racist realities

So, just over a week after the McCain-Palin ticket went public, the mainstream media have returned their favorite pastime -- wondering what's wrong with Barack Obama, and just what it is about him that keeps preventing him, or so it seems, from pulling away from a Republican who, by running against his president and party's own record, should be have been left for dead months ago.

Is it that Obama just can't "connect" with the white working-class?

Is it that Omama is elitist, aloof and condescending?

Is it that Obama is distant and indifferent to the "average American?"

Is it that Obama is secretly a Muslim, as one in five "small-town" white Americans apparently believe he is?

Is it that he is soft on terrorism? Unwilling to commit American military force?

Is it that he promotes sex education for kindergarten children?

Is it that he lacks experience?

Uh, no . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Seven weeks or so out from the November election, the Democrats are starting to get the jitters about Obama's chances of defeating McCain. This is a Democratic year, or so I keep being told by "political experts," many of whom are the very same people that told me that Hillary would win the Democratic primary walking away, or that Rudy Giuliani would be the Republican nominee, or that John McCain was going to select Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Obama's failure to win in November will mean that the Democrats should have nominated Hillary, who would have tapped into the voters with whom Obama struggles. At minimum, Obama should have picked Hillary as his running mate, thus shoring up his weakness with over-50 white women. Obama, we are now being told, should be running a more aggressive campaign and avoid falling into the Gore-Kerry cerebral trap . . . except that he should remain true to his early campaign theme of staying above the fray by appealing to Americans from across the demographic and socio-economic landscape . . . except when he shouldn't . . . or that he should emphasize his personal biography as a man who grew up with feet in the white and black worlds . . . but that he shouldn't emphasize "identity politics," except when he should, since more small-town white Americans need to find something about Obama that helps them relate better to him, even though they can't because, you know, he's black . . . but without kow-towing to the Know-Nothing politics of the "You bet your ass that Obama is a Muslim" crowd that enjoys nothing more than a few beers, a warm gun and a night out at the local Hooters with the boys, especially the kind of boys whose girlfriends and wives might actually work there, if not already doing the matinee at the local strip club.

* * * * * * * * * *

I'm glad that Barack Obama is the nominee of the Democratic party. I thought he was the best candidate in the field, and I think he is a man of enormous talent and possibilities. I think he is, in many ways, the perfect candidate for our times. By perfect, I don't mean that he is without flaws or, as president, would not make mistakes. Like all politicians, he has said and done things that are at odds with the image he wants to project. And, as president, he will say and do things that won't square with this-or-that campaign promise. So what? There is a big difference between a commitment to a big idea and going back on it, and finessing around the margins because of the realities of interest group politics.

Rather, I mean that he is the right candidate for an America that is changing rapidly at home and must, as a consequence of its own diminished status, the rise of China, India, the re-emergence of Russia and a developing world raged by disease, fratricidal wars and violence, engage in the world on a more co-equal level, and not operate as if the United States is always right and diminish the voices of other countries. Obama is young, smart, reflective, thoughtful and possessed of a presidential temperament. For eight years, the United States has been disastrously served by a president who operated on his "gut," and is now being offered another Republican nominee who believes his "gut" will point his moral and political compass in the right direction. John McCain's first major decision as a presidential candidate was to select a running so spectacularly unqualified for a major national office that she is impossible to take seriously. True to form, the mainstream media are giving McCain a pass on his selection, intimidated by the right-wing cable and radio media that bellow filth every day about Obama (as they did Hillary), concerned not in the least about their "fairness" and "objectivity."

Do I think, like the "jittery" Democrats I read about in the mainsteam media, that Obama's recent rough patch (over such important issues as sex education in kindergarten, the "lipstick on a pig" comment or his too-cool-to-be-real persona) means the Democrats should have nominated Hillary instead? No. The Democrats faced a bit of a Hobson's choice in their primary. Either they could have nominated a woman who would have mobilized the right-wing as never before in American presidential politics and watched her national support top out at 49%, with very few of those adorable white working-class Americans really going to vote for her in key Democratic states like Ohio, Indiana (remember how this state that hadn't voted for Democrat since the Civil War became the be-all, end-all of Obama's appeal?) and Pennsylvania and Michigan. Or it could nominate a self-made, self-identified black man who, despite his talent, intelligence, accomplishments and potential, has been derided by the right-wing media as a phony, inexperienced, Muslim who has a secret plan to turn the White House into Gangsta Heaven, where MTV or BET will go to film the latest episodes of "Pimp My Crib." How's this for irony: the Democrats had two candidates pursue their party's nomination who personify the mythical American dream more so than any of the Republicans did or do, and yet ultimately had to confront the "elitist" label to defend their success going against the America's two most visible social sicknesses: racism and sexism. Obama's bowling and Hillary's gun-totin'-just off from the late shift at the diner-routine was painful to watch, especially when juxtaposed against McCain's "man of the people" reputation that he built on the life of privilege that he was born into and later married.

In the end, this race will come down to one issue: race. In 2008, to hear Americans, whether the "average" ones talking politics at soccer games, PTA events, or in the Washington media's favorite place for "average American" knowledge -- a small town diner -- or elite opinion-makers ask themselves whether America is "ready" for a black president is, however offensive, to acknowledge that racism is alive and well in the United States. As white America prepares to descend into a minority in this country, sometime in the next 15 to 25 years, the question isn't whether America is ready for a black president; it's whether America should be electing another white president to govern and represent a country that is more multi-racial and multi-ethnic than ever before. By continually asking the question about readiness and race, Americans are acknowledging that they are nowhere near the point where we select our candidates based on merit. Hearing one story after another from friends active in Democratic grass-roots politics on the unwillingness of traditional Democratic voters to support Obama because he is black should not make anyone happy. It should be viewed as a great shame.

My own feeling on the Democratic dilemma is this. Hillary lost because she was Hillary first and a woman second. Contemplate all the strategic and tactical errors her campaign along the way you want. Sure, Bill was an albatross and her strategists should have paid attention to the caucus states. In the end, Hillary came with too much baggage and simply failed to inspire the next generation of voters who will ultimately take charge of the country's culture and institutions. If Obama loses the presidential election -- and at this point, I think he will, just as I have always thought he probably would but held out hope -- he will lose because he's black first and Obama second. In the next seven weeks, the entire world will be watching to see if the United States can actually walk the walk on the rules it writes for everyone else on race, tolerance, openness and enlightenment. If and when it fails this test, if you think that there is any other reason for this nation to reject a superbly qualified Democratic ticket over a Republican ticket that proudly boasts its anti-intellectualism, inexperience and bellicosity than race, you are sadly, sadly deluded. So, with such a pessimistic perspective, does this mean I'm still glad that Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee? Yes. If Obama loses in November, Americans will finally have no one to blame for themselves for their adherence to a racial politics that will no longer be our secret shame, but one that will be on full display for the entire world to see.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bob Woodward speaks . . . so it must be true

For those of you otherwise engaged in our nation's most inexplicable craze since the Pet Rock . . . Sarah Palinpalooza . . . you might have missed the latest multi-part series from Bob Woodward on George Bush's War Presidency, "The War Within," published by The Washington Post, his employer of the last 35 years. Woodward's lastest series, which excepts some of the more, I suppose, telling findings of the former Watergate sleuth's last "investigation.

Here are the dramatic, OMG, can-you-believe-it findings:

President Bush's advisors were afraid to bring him bad news for fear of offending his world view and personal sensibilities.

President Bush ignored the chain of command and opened a channel to David Petreus, who, in 2006, had not yet been given command of the Joint Chiefs, which was still headed by George Casey. Bush moved to Petreaus because he didn't like what he was hearing from Casey.

Key advisors and high-ranking officials in the president's cabinet who argued that candor was necessary to open the president's eyes to the realities in Iraq were shot down or marginalized by those who whose "loyalty" to the president was Priority 1. That meant the president would not get the information he needed.

President Bush eventually succumbed to a "body count" mentality to measure what he argued was "progress" on the war. At one point, he pressed Casey on the question of whether the US was killing "enough" Iraqi soldiers.

President Bush ignored data brought to him that did not conform to his pre-determined view of the Iraq war.

The president also resisted a comprehensive strategy review on the Iraq war, preferring instead to speak in platitudes and have his loyal cabinet members offer misleading and often false statements about US war strategy or what the generals were thinking and doing.

. . . and on and on it goes.

* * * * * * * * * *

Stunning, isn't it? I, for one, had no idea that Iraq was such a mess, or that the civilian hierarchy in the Bush administration had pushed military officers aside who did not conform to their world view, or that the administration had completely botched the war and pretty much everything connected to it. I had no idea that the Bush administration would consider the "surge" a success because it reduced the levels of violence in Iraq back to 2004 levels, which many in the Republican party, including John McCain, considered unacceptable. Coming about two years after Woodward's previous book on the president's Alice-in-Wonderland mentality on the war, "State of Denial," in which Woodward, and only Woodward, blasted through the fog and found that Bush, far from having a realist understanding of and approach to the Iraq war, lived in denial, preferring to believe what he wanted to believe, and insisting that those around him believe what he believed or remain quiet.

Had no idea, did you?

A generation ago -- literally -- Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein performed a priceless public service by pursuing the Watergate story. The disclosures that stemmed primarily from their reporting, which forced Congress to pursue the Nixon administration-directed Watergate break-in and cover-up rather than look the other way, forced an American president to resign from office. Since then, Woodward has remained at the Post and written who knows how many books that all have a common theme: finding disgruntled members of Congress, frustrated presidential aides, Cabinet officers and military officials, Supreme Court justices with an axe to grind -- really, any public appointee or well-connected influential private citizen looking to rehabilitate their image -- and letting them tell their story. The formula has made Bob Woodward a very wealthy man, which doesn't bother me in the least, as millions of other Americans have made their fortunes and accomplished very little while doing it. What does bother me, and I say this as someone who once entertained the thought of pursuing journalism as a career because of Woodward/Bernstein's heroics, is that stories on the Bush administration's incompetence or scandalous behavior brought to light by journalists outside the orbit of the Washington establishment, or even books on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the intelligence community or the institutionalization of torture written by reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post or other some other high-powered mainstream media institution, are treated as little more than waiting-room reading, even though their disclosures are often better investigated and more damning than Woodward's. Indeed, a favorite parlor game of Woodward's admirers is guessing who his sources are behind his books. That's not really much of a challenge. In "The War Within," it's former joint chiefs commander George Casey. In "State of Denial," it was Colin Powell. The "Deep Throat" approach is still Woodward's modus operandi; it's just that now we don't have to wait over thirty years (or until his partner's financial insolvency necessitates it) to discover Woodward's sources.

None of what Bob Woodward has written in his four books on the Bush administration is news, if news is defined, at least here, as learning something that we did not know. By the time Woodward published "Denial," reporting and commentary by dozens, if not hundreds, of other journalists, writers and investigators using the Internet as their communications medium had documented the Bush administration's cluelessness on Iraq (and terrorism and just about everything else involving the "War on Terror"). The same is true of his new book. The lesson of Woodward's books is not that we've learned much we didn't already know (if, like most of the official Washington-people/politicos/wannabes I know, you prefer pushed-up drama and gossip, Woodward delivers). It's that if you want to make a career questioning authority, you can't become part of the establishment you want to hold accountable.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

This one, on John McCain media worship, is especially good.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap discuss Sarah Palin's speech, Fred Thompson's speech, Toby Keith's "mancrush" on Barack Obama, and claim to have an answer to whether Obama is indeed a Muslim.

Live Zeebop this week

Zeebop will play twice this week . . .

Wednesday, September 10th, 8-11 p.m., at Pap and Peteys, 5th and H St., NE. Three sets of straight-ahead jazz served with a slice of funk. No cover, no minimum.

Sunday, September 14th, 12-1.30 p.m., at the Adams Morgan Day Festival. Music will be offered on two stages throughout the day. We'll be at the Jazz at Kalarama Park stage, located at the corner of Columbia and Kalarama Rds. Come out and support this neighborhood celebration.

Separately, I will be appearing with the Pablo Grabiel Trio at Clare and Dons, located at the corner of Washington St. and Lee Highway, next to the State Theatre, in Falls Church, Va., on Thursday, September 11th. Three sets of straight-ahead jazz from 7-10 p.m.

To learn more about Zeebop, click here.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Sarah Palin whitewash

Let's get right to main point: there is nothing good, noble or productive about John McCain's decision to nominate Sarah Palin to serve as his vice-presidential running mate. There is nothing "exciting" or "transformative," "ground-breaking" or "forward-thinking" about McCain's decision. Palin is so unqualified on so many levels that I doubt even a Nobel-winning mathematician could model her "qualifications" in three-dimensional space or measure their distance from zero. Her nomination is not merely an insult to women; it is an insult to the very idea that politics is something that should be taken seriously. That a man who wants the most visible and arguably important job, a job, as he has reminded us over and over, that requires a serious, experienced leader to deal with a world that has never been more dangerous, would select someone who could have played, a long time ago, one of Maurice Minnefield's misguided love interests on Northern Exposure (the ever-cool Chris the DJ wouldn't have gotten near Palin; Maggie would have run her out of town) should scare the living hell out of anyone who claims to give a damn about the world around them. In particular, if you are a parent still in the child-rearing years, please think about what you will tell your daughter if you are one of those "pro-choice-but-will-vote-for-McCain" people. Make sure you tell her that her reproductive freedom isn't as important as, say, lower gas prices or a slightly lower tax burden. And tell your son -- maybe your daughter, too -- that you will have no hesitation sending him to fight a war that serves, in all likelihood, no strategic purpose, other than to underscore the president's determination to stand tough against imagined enemies. Remember, these "enemies" are still very much alive and well, thanks to "national security experts" like John McCain, who remain wedded to the belief that you can "defeat" a religious-political movement by overwhelming it with military might. Almost seven years after the now-forgotten "War on Terror" began and over five years since America launched the Iraq debacle, the United States is less secure, less respected and less able to marshall an argument against, oh, I don't know, countries like Russia that decide to invade a sovereign neighbor just to put the world on notice that it can and will use force if and when it wants to do so.

Make no mistake. John McCain is a terrible candidate, a man who has succeeded in politics by crafting an image that bears no relationship to his public record. McCain is a straight up-and-down-the-line right winger who, at least for a while, kept the religious lunatics at bay until he decided to make nice with them in order to shore up a key element of the Republican base. Listening to him rail against the "Washington establishment" of which he has been a member in good standing for almost 30 years would be comical if the stakes, as they are in this election, weren't so high. Listening to him ridicule his "friend" Barack Obama's experience and then selecting an unknown, unaccomplished nutcase like Sarah Palin -- calling her the greatest vice-presidential running mate ever -- would, in a sane nation, disqualify him from running for, much less holding, public office. Listening the right-wing sycophants in the corporate media shill for his terrible choice while continuing to raise doubts about Obama's experience, judgment and depth isn't ironic -- it's miles past the Looking Glass in Alice in Wonderland. Eight years after George Bush chose Dick Cheney as his running mate to reassure nervous Republicans that he valued having someone with the experience he did not at his side, McCain reverses course and selects an individual who, at best, is qualified to cut ribbons and secure the streets for bike races and July 4th parades in a small Alaska town, to lead the nation. After eight years of George Bush, is the world really ready for another empty-headed lightweight motivated some bizarre set of religious beliefs, assuming, of course, that those religious beliefs are consistent with a bellicose foreign policy, social extremism at home and indifference to economic hardship?

Yet . . . yet . . . yet . . . John McCain will and has gotten away with the choice of Palin that, had Barack Obama made it, would have unleashed a torrential wave of criticism -- and justifiably so -- about his judgment, his intelligence and his fitness to hold the nation's highest office. Imagine, for a second, that Obama had selected Larry Giammo, Heidi Davison or, before he was shot to death last January three days before becoming the first black mayor of Westlake, Lousiana, Gerald Washington, as his running mate . . .


"Is he serious?"


And those would be the polite responses to Obama's selection of three small-town mayors, all of whom have governed communities -- or, in Washington's case, would have -- (Rockville, Maryland; Athens, Georgia and Westlake, Louisiana) larger than Sarah Palin's Wasilla, Alaska. Yes, yes, indeed . . . Obama would have diversified his ticket by picking any of these three hypothetical candidates (a white male of Italian heritage; a white woman; and a black man born in the South who won his 80% white-town's vote by a nearly 2-1 margin). And until 10 minutes ago, I never heard of any of Giammo, Davison or Washington. I chose Rockville and Athens because I live near one and grew up 60 miles from another and know that each has a relatively small population. I found Washington by Googling "small town black mayors" and turned up Washington on the first hit). But he wouldn't have congratulated by Democratic partisans and he sure as hell wouldn't have had the Bill Kristols and David Brooks of the world cheering on his "exciting" choice. He would have been laughed off the presidential stage -- again, justifiably so.

But John McCain can make a choice like this, and Sarah Palin can parade herself and her 17 year-old pregnant, unmarried daughter onto the national stage as a political prop, and receive plaudits from Republican partisans and "Hey, let's not judge" comments from their journalistic apologists for one simple reason.

John McCain is white. Sarah Palin is white. Bristol Palin is white, as is, Levi Johnston, the father of her child. And being white, in 2008 as much as 1968, confers a powerful, unspoken privilege in American politics, as it does in all other facets of American life. White Americans, in my experience, often get defensive when talking about race and privilege by instinctively claiming that they are not racists. Maybe not, but that's not the point. Privilege is something that accrues by virtue of membership. Whether you bent the rules or acted badly to get there is secondary. You will still, as a white American, especially one of economic means and elevated social standing, have an advantage than other Americans do not. Personally, I find the "Is racism or sexism more endemic?" debate pointless and a waste of time. Both are toxic and still pervasive in America. But race will always trump sex as a disability in business, politics . . . pretty much everywhere with the possible exceptions of sports and entertainment. A friend pointed out earlier today that had the American public learned that Hillary Clinton had a four month-old Downs Syndrome baby and still decided to accept Barack Obama's offer to run with him -- forget running the presidency -- she would have been excorciated by the very same people defending Palin as a bad mother, ruthless cutthroat, selfish . . . you name it. And had the Clintons trotted out Chelsea Clinton as a pregnant 17 year-old with a self-described "redneck" as the father of her child in 1992 or even 1996, when Chelsea was 17, the response would have made a natural disaster like Katrina seem like a spring sun shower in comparison. Since I was using Obama as my frame of reference, I hadn't thought about how the Clintons, especially Hillary, would have fared. But my friend is right.

Again, not to start a "Can you top this?" dialogue, but, as bad as it would have gotten for the Clintons, that would have been nothing compared to the news that Michelle Obama was leaving her fifth child at home in the care of someone else so that she could campaign with her husband (that Michelle would have absorbed the brunt of criticism for her "choice" and not Barack does illustrate my friend's point on sexism). And is there anything that white Americans already "uncertain" over whether the nation is "ready" for a black president would have exchanged knowing eye-rolls and soft elbows over than yet another unwed, pregnant 17 year-old black girl who, unlike Bristol, probably didn't even know who the father was? The Obamas would not have been congratulated for their "choices," as Sarah Palin but shouldn't have but was, since she doesn't believe that women should have a "choice" when they get pregnant, even if that pregnancy is the result of faulty birth control, rape or incest. You break it, it's yours. The Obamas would not have been lauded by the religious crazies for acting consistently with their religious beliefs. Sometimes, I'm not sure why people acting consistently with their religious beliefs is always a good thing. The September 11th hijackers acted according to their religious belief, as did the Taliban, as did and do the Iraqi insurgents, as did and do millions of people from around the globe who have killed, destroyed and maimed in the name of a fairy tale.

No, Barack Obama, before he would have relinquished his nomination, as the Democratic "party elders" would have forced him to do, would have been asked to give another speech on the need for black Americans to behave more responsibility. He would say that he wasn't leaving the race because of the irresponsible choices his wife and daughter made. No, he would have said he was doing what any responsible parent should do, and that was to take a step back from his own ambition so that he could spend more time with his family. The Obamas are smart enough to know that black Americans have no room for error in their public or private lives. They know that Obama's confessed and rather minor illicit drug use in his early 20s is a much more serious matter to undecided Americans than John McCain's years of alcohol-driven irresponsible, immature behavior, which included ditching his first wife when she became a liability to his personal ambition. They know that black Americans cannot make errors as parents, as white Americans can, so they would have realized that his campaign was over as soon as news that Michelle was leaving her special-needs child behind and abandoning her irresponsible 17 year-old daughter, even though the Sarah Palins of the world can grace the covers of People and US magazines as a tough-as-nails mom who'll kick the living hell of anyone who dares to question her or her family. And I haven't even mentioned the most dangerous feature of her biography: that she is a former "hockey mom." As someone who has coached youth hockey for five going on six years, I can tell you there is huge difference between a "hockey mom" and a mom with a child who plays hockey. Advertising yourself as a psychotic with out-of-whack priorities should not be "life experience" that garners a single vote.

The election is about eight weeks away. Between now and then, you will hear a lot of commentary and analysis from "political experts," some of whom are "political professionals," some of whom are academics, some of whom are "journalists," and some of whom are former "political operatives," "consultants" and so on. They will talk quite a bit about this poll or that poll, about who is connecting with whom, about whether Soccer Moms have morphed into Security Moms, about whether the all-powerful, all-knowing "white working class" can get comfortable with Obama, about whether Hillary's Army will stay home or vote for McCain and whether some "October surprise" will lift McCain or Obama . . . and so on and so forth.

In the end, this election comes down to one thing. John McCain is white and Barack Obama is not. America should stop congratulating itself on its "historic" achievement of having a black presidential candidate over 140 years after the Civil War ended and 40 years after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Instead, it should be asking itself why, after all this time, it continues to view the intelligence, capability and promise of our public officials through the lens of race, when all that should really matter is the content of their character and the power of their dreams.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Just average

As someone on the downside of the parabolic curve of male life expectancy in the United States, you would think that I have learned enough over time to make the mid-course life corrections necessary to make my remaining 29. 5 years on Earth better for everyone involved, including me. Funny, though, that a recent conversation I had with a friend who has about .3 less years left on his contract with Life about how 45 seems to be the age when you first start to feel like you're getting a handle on things came the day before I received my "merit letter" from the university assessing my "productivity" as a teacher, scholar and citizen. My friend and I were discussing how 20 or so years of trial and error in our personal and professional lives had put us in the position of making better decisions and approaching our work with greater care and skill.

Apparently not.

For the first time in my 19 year career of professing, writing, talking, listening . . . doing whatever it is that professors do, I am, in the view my university, an "average" teacher and a "below average" scholar. Don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not above being "below average" or even "poor" at something. As much as I used to like basketball when I was younger, I could never play it very well. I got cut from my 8th grade team and suffered through the indignity of being the "team manager" (waterboy is more accurate) for a season so I could hang out in the gym and work on my free throws. By the end of the season, I was an excellent free throw shooter. Problem was I was still pretty bad when I had to play against other people. In a scrimmage, in which I was allowed to participate, the coach encouraged me to drive the lane so I could get fouled and go to the free throw lane. This led to problem two . . . I usually had the ball stolen or turned it over before I could launch my 3" vertical jump. So 8th grade marked my retirement from basketball, which was okay because it allowed me more time to work on the other weaknesses in my academic and athletic lives . . . like math, getting a date to the occasional school dance, learning the trombone (really, three weeks of that ill-guided misadventure), experimenting with skin products in the hope that I could somehow make my acne go away and learning the drum part to "Long Distance Runaround," by Yes.

The result: failure, failure, failure, failure and success. A 20% success rate is very definition of failure, except, I think, in direct mail, where somewhere around a five or six percent return is considered quite good. Had I known that 30 some-odd years ago, rest assured that I would have used that argument to defend my incompetence as a basketball player and mathematician. On the other hand, NOT knowing those arguments most likely spared me from further humiliation.

That was then, and this is now. By 46, according to all the "motivation" and "self-help" books on the front table at Barnes and Noble, I should be in the prime of my professional life, earning lots and lots of money and accruing all the attendant benefits (plaques, special parking spots, employee-of-the-month designations, a wall full of grip-and-grin photos with very important people, and so on) that go with it. I can live quiet well, thank you, being bad at certain things. I don't consider the fact that I can't help my 9 1/2 year-old teenage daughter with her math homework a personal failure, just like I am unperturbed by my inability to "review" my son's science homework. Neither of my children is as good at me at, say, cleaning a toilet or getting the stains out of their favorite shirts. And, yes, my wife can fix the garbage disposal when it mysteriously "stops," whereas I can't. But don't ask her which aisle at Giant she can can find her favorite Caesar dressing because she doesn't know where any of our local grocery stores are -- even, or especially, the one next to the DSW in Bethesda.

So incompetence, sucking or simply plain failure is fine, as long as it's something you don't really care about or actually secretly believe that it's not you who is flailing away, but a conspiracy, headed by The Man, that's beating you down.

But to be "average" or "below average" at this point in my career is a tough nut to swallow, especially when, for the better part of my career, I've been "above average" and even, every now and then, "excellent." Just three years ago, I was the SPA Scholar-Teacher of the Year. That was, it now appears, the beginning of the end. A year later, I taught the five highest evaluated courses in SPA, yet earned a second quintile designation in my annual merit reivew. Translated, I was, at best, the ninth best teacher in SPA, even though my courses were the highest evaluated in the school. For the first time in my professional life, I asked my administrative superiors how that could be, since the be-all, end-all of "quality" teaching at our university is the three-minute drill on the last day or two of class when students fill out their evaluations. The answer I got was this: through a complex formula this committee or that committee came to its conclusion that you were not among our best teachers, even though the course evaluations said otherwise. So what happens a year later? I received a "first quintile" rating in my merit review, even though my teaching evaluations were not as good as the previous year when they were better than everybody else's. Now, because three or four students in one of my GenEd classes decided I was the anti-Christ, as opposed to the 28 or 9 who thought the class was very good to excellent, the free-fall continues.

An average teacher. Can't I just flat-out suck or be the best one ever? At least, that way, your students will remember you. Now, I've turned into one of those dreaded, "I have some guy for civil liberties but I can't remember his name," or "I don't really remember much about that class from last semester . . . it was just . . . AVERAGE." Think about it: can you name the number 3 or 4 starters on the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros or Minnesota Twins without looking? Me? I'd rather be the number 1 starter for the Tampa Bay Rays (the best team in baseball) or the number 5 starter for the Atlanta Braves (who just flat-out stink) than just get lost in the shuffle. They say unchartered waters are always the choppiest, something, having never sailed or taken a boat ride beyond a whale watching expedition in Nova Scotia four years ago, I'll just have to accept as true, since I'm not much of a boatsman.

Getting inside my head, it doesn't get any better, because, apparently, there isn't much there. Universities -- not just this one -- evaluate the scholarly achievements of their faculty based what they've published over the previous year and where they've published it. I got a little credit, I suppose, for having a co-edited book still "count" because it was published within the last three years. But the book before that was published in 2004, again co-edited, so that doesn't count anymore, although it still sells and is used in undergraduate and graduate level classes, and was sufficiently well-received to merit a new, second edition. The two-volume textbook I published in 2001 and 2002 doesn't count either, even though, again some teachers still use it, even though I've told them it's going out of print. The publisher I worked with dispensed with its conlaw list several years ago and cut my book loose. And while I have had offers from other publishers to move the book and relaunch it, I decided against it because there are plenty of good conlaw books out there and no one would stand to benefit from another one. And, as strange as this might sound, I've already done that, so I wouldn't really get anything out of doing it again. I now have new book underway about jazz, civil rights and the American South after World War II that I am really excited about doing. But . . . that's a multi-year project that won't see the light of day until 2011 or 12. So, until then, I will remain unproductive and below average, even though I am working on a project that a number of people find interesting and creative. None of them, though, is a political scientist, who tend to treat the seriousness of an idea based on whether your "findings" (more research is needed, we can't be sure about what we know, this is just a preliminary finding, etc., blah-blah) are published in a peer-reviewed journal with a circulation of about 382, about six of whom actually open the journal and maybe one of whom actually reads the article beyond the index to see if their name was mentioned in the research bibliography, than for what it has to say. Even though every book I've written, edited or co-edited has been peer reviewed, arguably more rigorously than any article I wrote when I used to publish in journals (34 reviewers on my conlaw book alone), that work isn't considered "peer-reviewed" because it is not considered serious or scholarly.

Or, as professional academics like to say, work like this "doesn't count." So . . . books used in college classes that are written and edited by scholars who were recruited to do these projects because they proposed an interesting way of thinking about something aren't really serious, even though we like to tell our students to take the work we do in class seriously. You are better off designing a complex statistical model that, for example, "explains" the relationship between where a Supreme Justice went to pre-school and the likelihood that he or she will favor criminal defendants in cases involving warrantless trunk searches than developing materials that undergraduates can use to stimulate their interests or learn something they didn't know. This, despite the reality that nothing really explains anything else.

Make sense? Good.

So, as the school year gets underway, I would like to apologize to all my students in advance, including the ones I wouldn't overload into my classes, for the completely forgettable experience you are about to have this semester. You are being taught by an average teacher with below average scholarly credentials who apparently, despite being on several committees and sponsoring several student clubs, doesn't care about the university (bottom quintile) that continues, against all better judgment, to employ him.


Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap offer their insight into the Sarah Palin selection, the Democratic Convention, speechmaking and bemoan their poor CD sales. This site is Lowell Murray-endorsed.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Live Zeebop this week

Zeebop is back at Pap and Peteys after some time off to ease through the August doldrums. We'll play three sets of straight-ahead jazz, served with a little funk, this Wednesday, September 3rd, from 8-11 p.m. We'll be introducing some new tunes and rearranging some of the old ones.

Pap and Peteys is located at 421 H St., NE, just two and half blocks north of Union Station.

To learn more about Zeebop, click here.

Thanks for your continued support.

Summer encore VII

Sunday, January 20, 2008
Anonymous Critics

(Note: One downside of the democratization of the Internet is the rise of the critic/stalker/bully who chooses anonymity rather than offer a face-to-face challenge to something you've said or written. This piece seemed to resonate with a number of people, especially friends of mine who work at universities and big law firms, where criticism is constant, mean and inexplicably personal. It really is amazing how a person who doesn't know you beyond an hour or two a week feels qualified to psychoanalyze you or get into a whole bunch of "and you . . . and you . . ." My experience is that people who go this route are usually angry about something else and have decided to take it out on you -- or me.)

God bless the First Amendment, right? Freedom of speech, the right to believe what we want . . . to say what we want, . . . to stick it to the Man and to know that the Man, bloodied and bruised, can't stick it right back to us because the Constitution won't let him (or her, or it, or whomever).

How great is that? I mean, given the choice of living in a country where criticism of the government, an outrageous statement about a public official or public figure, songs full of sexually explicit lyrics or hosting a website that allows visitors to fulfill their sexual fantasies of watching uniformed fast-food workers go at it in cheap motel rooms lands you in jail or just having to accept the often uninformed, crude and malicious commentary that passes for intellectual exchange and artistic expression as the price of doing business, what would you choose?

Freedom, right? Or as Richie Havens once sung, over and over again, "FREEEEEEE-DOM! FREEEEEEEDOM! . . . "

Freedom, though, for what?

* * * * * * * * * *

My point in this post isn't to take on the First Amendment or the right of free speech. I'm an ACLU free speech person, right down the line. Like any free speech "absolutist," I support the occasional exception or two, since I don't believe that all "speech" is entitled to the same level of government protection. Laws banning the production, distribution and sale of child pornography don't bother me one bit. Other exceptions, though, aren't always so easy to find and defend. Generally, I limit my thinking about the First Amendment to what the government can or can't do to individuals (or groups or companies, etc.) who buck the sensibilities of the majority, whose sensibilities aren't always so . . . well . . . sensible.

My question, rather, is this: what motivates the "anonymous" critic to launch missiles, often profane, personal, unrelated to a writer or speaker's point and often ignorant, against a boss, teacher, writer, musician, cookbook author or bagel store owner? And I'm not sure what's weirder -- a personal attack against someone you know or just directing anger against someone you've never met.

The blogosphere is an interesting place. On the one hand, the power and capacity to find and exchange information is infinite. Since I started by own blog, I have "met" dozens of interesting people from all over the world -- literally. I hear from one person on a regular basis who lives in Manitoba (that's in Canada) and another who is currently living in Spain. Pieces I've written have gotten "picked up" in some interesting places, ranging from on-line "publications" to sites that serve as cyber-kiosks for the exchange of information. I've received a "thank-you" note from a professional musician about whom I wrote a small tribute, and one from a youth sports organization in Massachusetts now includes a piece I wrote on crazy sports parents in the "beginning of the season" packet it distributes to participating families. I also get emails from time to time from interesting people who like things I've written -- and from equally interesting people who disagree with something I've written, yet have something interesting or constructive to say.

Fine, so far.

Really, though, what motivates the other class of correspondents and fans who personalize their comments to a point that I wonder what they might do their dogs or children on a bad day? And, to compound that mystery, what good does someone writing anonymously think they're doing by going off on me -- or anyone else -- in a manner so degrading and so personal?

I started writing a blog because I wanted to practice my writing. It's the same piece of advice I give to students or young professionals or anyone who wants to improve their ability to communicate with the written word. It's really no different than encouraging a young musician to play as often with other people as he or she can, or encouraging a kid who wants to improve her golf game or throw to first from shortstop to practice as often as she can. You don't get better at something by offering advice that you don't take yourself. Professional academics, by and large, don't write very much, and when they do it's often for an audience of specialists. It's not at all uncommon for an academic political scientist to go an entire year without writing so much as a paragraph for an audience beyond his or her colleagues. Some academics view infrequent and specialized articles or essays as a sign of their intellectual superiority. Trying to engage a broader audience, or just testing how well you can communicate an idea on which you have an opinion is seen as an exercise in dumbing ourselves down. And then there is the worst criticism a professional academic can receive -- that our contributions aren't "scientific" or "scholarly," and shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone, lest of all our peers or our professional superiors who decide our promotions and raises. I don't agree with any of that.

A colleague, a student or some other reader who believes my blog is worthless and/or stupid shouldn't waste their time reading it. In this morning's papers, there are columns by George Will, William Kristol, David Broder, Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks and Robert Novak that I'll skip, just like I always do. I'll also skip Richard Cohen, Maureen Dowd, and, increasingly (and unfortunately) E. J. Dionne for the same reasons. The reason I'll skip them is because they're all predictable exercises in conventional wisdom intended for an audience that accepts convention as its discussion and policy parameters. I read conservative and liberal writers in other places that have more original and interesting takes on ideas and policy, some of whom are well-known -- Harold Meyerson, John Tierney and Gene Robinson, for example -- while others are so far off the charts of the opinion-making class that dominates the mainstream media that you couldn't find them without a AAA Trip Tix -- or Google.

Regardless of what I think about any of the above writers, I'll give them credit for one thing: they sign their name to what they write. Bill Kristol's recent receipt of a New York Times column has engendered some snarly comments in the blogosphere and elsewhere about the Gray Lady's motives in choosing someone so reviled by liberals, who view the Op-Ed page as their personal sanctuary from the conservatism that dominates the mass media. True, Kristol is pretty much wrong about everything, from Iraq to the moral sensibilities of the American middle-class on social and economic issues. But being right or wrong bears no relationship to one's status in the Washington punditry. Pedigree, social class and adherence to the norms of Washington's political-media complex are what result in professional advancement and one's place on the social ladder here. Whatever Kristol has to say -- and once you've read one column you've read them all -- he signs his name to what he writes. Give him credit for that.

In my insignificant corner of the cyber-universe, I now moderate all comments to my blog. I did this because I underestimated the immaturity and vitriol of readers who insist on reading pieces they find stupid, silly, intellectually weightless and so on and then firing anonymous comments for public view. I sign my name to everything I write because that's how I was taught many years ago in journalism school and by professional writers and editors for whom I worked in college. In the blogosphere, a clever name like, "Hempmaster," or "Liberalhater" is just as anonymous as signing your name as . . . anonymous. If you have something to say, sign your name and leave your contact information. Hiding beyond a computer screen under a pseudonym so that you can trash someone might help you feel better, but it adds nothing to a debate or exchange of ideas.

Perplexing as well is the inability it seems of some readers to distinguish between satire, political commentary, observational humor or what might just be my taste in art or music. An anonymous critic wanted to post a comment on the recent piece I wrote on wacky student behavior that accused me of "hating" my students. Only someone who doesn't know me could ever make an accusation that I "hate" my students. I find teaching and mentoring, at this point in my career, much more rewarding than writing hair-splitting "scholarly" articles on obscure topics for journals that no one, even academics, will read. In the last two weeks, I have received three absolutely lovely and touching letters from former students thanking me for contributing to their personal and professional development. I think that a teacher's "influence" is often overstated, but I'm not about to argue with a student for whom such a feeling is real and genuine. Just the other night about twenty current and former students came out to watch my band, Zeebop, play a local gig. Some new each other and some did not. Some I've known for a year or two and others I've known for fifteen. My children were the ring bearer and flower girl at one former student's wedding and our entire family was invited to attend another's recent wedding. Another former student who baby sat my now 13 year-old son when he was a year old just sent me pictures of her second child. Here's my point: if I "hated" my students so much, why would I have such long-lasting relationships with so many of them? Why do I find current and former students so interesting and inspiring to be around? Poking fun at the immature and silly behavior of undergraduates doesn't say anything about my feelings towards students as whole or any one student in particular, just like laughing at myself, my hockey buddies or my neighbors is just that -- laughing at the absurdities in the bigger world or the little one in which we live.

* * * * * * * * * *

As far as I know, anonymous attacks in the blogosphere don't really affect anyone's professional standing or compensation, unless those attacks cross the line from stupidity to defamation. At that point, things can certainly get messy. In my profession, though, anonymous criticism plays a huge role in whether professors get promoted and tenured or, in the second stage of their career, they get promoted to full professor. Anonymous criticism comes from two sources. The first is the anonymity given to scholars who are asked to review the research and professional contributions of a candidate up for promotion. That makes sense, as an evaluator should feel comfortable making a complete assessment of a candidate without fear of reprisal. Professional academics generally behave responsibly when evaluating a colleague. Like with everything, there are exceptions for academics behaving badly. In my experience, I have seen reviews thrown out because something other than professional norms appeared to motivate a reviewer. I know one reviewer who was discarded from a tenure review because her attack on a candidate up for promotion was motivated not by the professor's record, which was outstanding, but by a very clear animus towards her dissertation director. Usually, you can catch things like that. A candidate for promotion can also rebut a review, not always successfully, but at least the opportunity is there.

Teaching is another matter altogether. Despite what universities say, and this includes mine, all that matters in the end when assessing a professor's teaching "effectiveness" is his or her course evaluations as determined by students. Professors are not evaluated by their peers. No committee or academic officer, such as the Dean of Academic Affairs or the Provost, observes and assesses a teacher's style or their efforts to prod their students through unorthodox methods or simply for holding them to task for what their assigned to do. In short, there is no professional evaluation of professional academics. Students, who are told by their professors throughout the semester that their knowledge is subordinate to their own, who are taking a course presumably because they don't very much about the subject matter, who can be held responsible for not turning in their homework or attending classes and who are evaluated by professional scholars, in the end have complete control over a professor's fate simply by filling out a bubble form. This "evaluation" lasts about 5 to 10 minutes, involves no collaboration or discussion among students or between professors and students. There is no "adjustment" for professors who assign more reading or more papers than their colleagues, who require lots of writing or who are demanding graders. A professor who doesn't meet my university's definition of what constitute "good teaching," i.e., student approval in the 80%-plus range concluding you are very good or better at pleasing them, will get fired. There is that temptation to say that poor teachers shouldn't keep their jobs, regardless of their reputation as a scholar. In principle, I'm fine with that. What I'm not fine with are professors getting pressured to please their students instead of teach them because the students are our "customers," and our job is to keep them happy.

I stopped taking students evaluations seriously the moment I got promoted to full professor six years ago. I didn't take them terribly seriously beforehand as a measure of whether I did my job well or not. During any one part of the semester, students will make suggestions to me about what they want from the course. Can we read this book instead of that book? Can we do a group assignment? Can we have more or fewer exams? I listen to what they have to say and sometimes I will make an adjustment. Other times I will offer a change to the course and let the students have some say in whether we include or exclude something or not. In the end, I am going to do what I think is right for me and for them. I am a professional academic, and after almost 21 years of teaching at the college level I am pretty sure I know what I'm doing. I don't always do it as well as I'd like to, and I never get as frustrated as when I can't get across an idea that I believe is really important or that I didn't sufficiently challenge a class. In the end, though, I am more qualified than my students to evaluate my teaching. Students should have the right to offer their opinion on certain aspects of a professor's responsibilities to them. Does the professor miss too many classes? Does he or she appear unprepared for class? Does the teacher offer useful assignments? Was she polite to you when you came to her office to discuss the course? Did he answer questions completely and ask if there was anything else you needed to know?

Assistant professors up for tenure live in fear of their teaching evaluations. Associate professors awaiting promotion to full professor are not above manipulating their evaluations to boost their numerical scores. A well-timed assignment returned a day before the evaluations are given out that allows students to "improve" their grades will do wonders for professor's evaluations. Cutting back assignments and not making daily assignments mandatory will also help. Gasp! Do professors actually do this? Yes. Academics love what they do and want to keep doing it. If manipulating a process that is so unfairly weighted in favor of the student and riddled with bias and incompetence helps them, they'll do it . . . sure. This surprises you?

So is there a way to improve how professors are evaluated? Yes. Allow professors to evaluate other professors. We are within two hours of a dozen universities, including schools of national stature, such as Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, the University of Virginia, the University of Richmond and George Washington. Let them make "site visits" to assess the professionalism of a college instructor. Why not have university officials actually get involved in the substantive evaluation of the professors they are going to promote? Do you know that it's possible for a professor to get tenure and never have the Dean of Academic Affairs or any other ranking academic officer, including the Dean or Associate Dean of the school or college in which they teach observe their work? Crazy, isn't it?

And here's a radical concept: eliminate the anonymity of the student evaluations. Professors do not see the student evaluations until well after they have turned in their grades. Why do they need to be anonymous? Students who don't like us won't take us anymore, and students who do like our courses will take us again. A student who likes my courses enough to take them two or three times is welcome to make suggestions to me anytime. I may or may not incorporate them into my courses. But I will listen.

Put the student's name on every bubble sheet distributed during the end-of-the-semester evaluation. Put the student's name of every narrative comment sheet they fill out, the ones that our academic officers don't read. The narrative evaluations, as I've written before, are intended for professors, a chance for a student to offer suggestions they can't make on the bubble sheets. I could be wrong, but I bet students who had to be accountable for what they said to or about a professor might be a little more temperate in their assessment. Hopefully, they might be a little more mature in their narrative comments. I mean, it's all well and good that I'm "hot for a straight guy," and "good at remembering Supreme Court decisions," but that doesn't help me anymore than someone calling me a "dick," or concluding that I'm "secretly gay because [my] clothes match" does. Commentary like this is useless, as is 99% of the narrative comments we get. Frankly, I haven't read the narrative comments in years, except when my assistant goes through them to pull out quotes for my web page. I evaluate everything my students do, from how often they come to class to the contributions they make to class discussion to how well I believe they carry out the assignments I give them. In fact, I spend more time in one week evaluating a student's progress in my class than that same student will spend evaluating me over a semester's worth of work.

I sign my name to everything I do. If professors cannot hide behind the cloak of anonymity in their evaluation of student work, then students should be held to the same standards when they evaluate ours.