Jonathan Chait Should Stop Writing About Education Reform

Jonathan ChaitWhenever Jonathan Chait writes about the education reform movement, he should be required to put a statement at the start of it. It should be something like this: “My wife works in the education reform movement.[1] As a result of this, I have absolutely no objectivity. Unlike most of what I write about, I have no sense whatsoever for nuance. I just hate the teachers unions and what little I will say about them will represent the most extreme factions. So it is really for the best if you don’t even read what follows because I have nothing interesting to add to any discussion on the issue of education reform.” But instead, he pretends as though he were objective and interesting. Meanwhile, his readers get intellectual whiplash from one article to the next as he moves from liberal to conservative and back again.

His article today was a particularly egregious example of this, Obamans, Selling Out, and the Proxy Fight for the Democratic Party’s Future. His complaint in the article is that supporters of teachers unions attack Obama surrogates[2] rather than Obama and this is wrong because… Really, I don’t know why. He says that they don’t attack Obama himself because the President is popular inside the unions. So the union leadership is trying to protect its members in the best way that it can. And this is wrong because… Again, I don’t know.

The whole purpose of the article seems to be to allow him to write, “The splits within the Democratic Party over whether public services should be designed for the benefit of providers or consumers tend to come out at the municipal level.” Ouch! In case you missed it, Chait is saying that teachers unions are a constituency just like the the school kids. And who you gonna support, huh?! Those greedy teachers or those poor kids? Except, there’s another constituency that Chait doesn’t mention: the people employed in the education reform movement. He must know about it, because his wife works in it. It’s a constituency too.

But in the Jonathan Chait world of black and white education reform, people working for “reform” are only looking out for the kids—unlike those dirty teachers unions that would reduce the school day to 25 minutes if they could. It’s just ridiculous. My problem with the education reform movement is that it seems focused on one thing: teachers unions. It doesn’t spend its time trying to combat the very worst thing about our educational system: inequality based upon the widespread use of local property taxes to fund public education.

When it comes to the people who are always ranting about the budget deficit, Chait has no problem seeing that they aren’t interested in what they claim to be. He sees clearly that these people have ulterior motivations like cutting aid to the poor. But when it comes to education reform, Chait couldn’t be more naive. It seems to not even occur to him that some, maybe even most (Look at who funds the movement!), are not quite so pure. And that’s why his writing about education reform is useless.

[1] According to her Twitter account she is, “Director of Performance Management and Human Resources, Center City Public Charter Schools.”

[2] One of those surrogates is Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which hardly seems to apply. Would he make the same claim if liberals complained about Obama’s Defense Secretary (which we did)?

Update (22 August 2014 10:06 pm)

I want to make clear that this is not about the education reform movement not adopting my favorite issue. I’ve been attacked on this before. People will say that there is no political will to deal with the issue that I am most concerned about and ask if we shouldn’t at least do whatever it is that we can. There are a couple of issues here. One is that education funding inequality is not just any other issue. It is like taxes in the budget deficit debate. If someone isn’t willing to deal with this issue, it shows that they aren’t serious. At best it shows they only want to nibble around the edges of the problem. Another issue is: why is it politically viable to go after teachers unions and to push testing, testing, and more testing? I think a lot of it is that the people who are willing to give millions of dollars for education reform are mostly interested in something else. I’m all for things that work. But at one time, charter schools were what would save us. In fact, to many people, they still are. But it’s turned out that other than moving a lot of teachers out of unions, the charter schools haven’t done that much good. On average, they are about as good as public schools. I think I have plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the motivations of the education reform movement. And so does Jonathan Chait.


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Mad More Insightful Than Mainstream Media

Norman Rockwell the Runnaway - Mad Magazine Parody

When I was a kid, I thought Mad Magazine sucked. The humor was too obvious—like it was hitting you over the head. There was no subtlety. It was like a bad joke teller who nudges you, “Get it?! He thought she was making fun of his eye, but she was really just surprised, ‘Would I?’ Get it?!” That was the magazine.

But then yesterday, they came out with, If Norman Rockwell Depicted Today’s America: the Militarization of Officer Joe. And I was blown away! They nailed it. This is good satire. It isn’t even about what’s happened to our policing, because in a fundamental sense, that hasn’t changed so much. What has changed is the way that the mainstream of America sees the police.

When Rockwell created the original in 1958, if he had painted a black boy, the officer would have been saying, “What are you doing on that seat, boy?! Don’t you know this is the white’s section!” So for a great many people in 1958, the parody was accurate at the time—at least in the general sense.

Of course, it isn’t only about the representation of the police. There have been far too many Ferguson-type shootings and many of them have gotten a lot of attention. What’s more, nice white middle class people have found that increasingly their local police forces do more harm than good. Now instead of just fixing problems, police seem focused on getting arrests. As though it makes any sense to arrest a 16-year-old boy for a Facebook posting that he shot his neighbor’s pet dinosaur.

So what I’m thinking is that maybe Mad Magazine is just as stupid as it ever was. It is just that America—and especially American policing—has gotten so stupid that Mad looks good by comparison. In its defense, Mad has never claimed to be anything but stupid. On its website, it offers for readers to, “Get more stupidity delivered right to your mailbox!” But when Mad Magazine is clearly more serious and insightful than the Very Serious Chorus of the likes of David Brooks (much less the right wing loonies), I fear we have past the point from which we can return.

H/T: Democratic National Christian Choice

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Chicago Cubs’ Management Both Stupid and Evil

Chicago CubsFor the last few months, Dean Baker has taken to referring to the “skills gap” in a unique way. If you read the Very Serious Commentators, you will doubtless have heard about the supposed skills gap. It is a form of apologia intended to justify high unemployment. The argument goes like this: people aren’t out of work because there is a lack of jobs; rather, they are out of work because they don’t have the skills necessary for the jobs that are available. And to bolster this, the commentator will find some employer who claims that, for example, he just can’t find manufacturing workers who can do trigonometry. What is almost never stated in such articles is that the example employer is only willing to pay slightly more than minimum wage for such skills.

Baker has been saying for a while there there is a skills gap: the managers of these companies that can’t find qualified employees to hire don’t know basic economics which would tell them that if they want skilled employees, they need to pay them more money. He’s joking, of course. What’s really going on is that these employers are being disingenuous. Obviously, any employer would be able to sell more stuff if he could undercut the competition by paying less than the going rate for workers. Usually, it turns out that such employers are really just conservative ideologues trying to make a political point.

Today, Baker published a related article, It’s Hard to Find Good Help, Chicago Cubs Edition. It’s the kind of story that makes me boil over with rage, because we are talking about a baseball franchise. Major League Baseball has a Congressionally created monopoly—the only one in existence. And franchises are very profitable. But they still do everything they can to screw the American worker.

According to Talking Points Memo, Cubs Cut Workers’ Hours To Avoid Obamacare Mandate, Then Disaster Struck. The Cubs management didn’t want to have to provide healthcare for their grounds crew, so they cut back their hours to less than 30 per week so they wouldn’t have to. First: the Cubs don’t already provide healthcare for their grounds crew?! Second, that is the most petty thing I’ve heard this week. The disaster was that because the crew was under-staffed, the field got muddy and the Cubs ended getting a winning game overturned. So great! They totally deserve that.

But that’s not the best part of it. The best part of it has to do with the managerial skills gap I talked about at the beginning of this. Here’s Dean Baker:

The problem with this story is that employer sanctions are not in effect for 2014. In other words, the Cubs will not be penalized for not providing their ground crew with insurance this year even if they work more than 30 hours per week. Apparently the Cubs management has not been paying attention to the ACA rules. This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.

This is entirely typical. My experience in the corporate world is that there is basically no correlation between success and competence. And many managers don’t get their information about government programs from objective sources but rather from people like Michael Savage. So it isn’t surprising in the least that the Cubs management got this wrong. They are as competent as they are kind.

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Wheaton Hates Women Loves Wars

Wheaton College - For Bigotry and Its Kingdom

I recently found out that one of the neighborhood boys is attending Wheaton College, the Christian school in Illinois. Wheaton has been in the news a lot recently because of their fight against providing birth control in insurance coverage for their employees. They don’t even like the idea that the insurance companies pay for the birth control themselves. This isn’t a problem for the insurance companies because, as we all know, birth control is a whole lot cheaper than pregnancies. But according to Wheaton this is like given women a “permission slip” for contraceptives.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Is that the most paternalist idea ever? Yes. What is clear here is that the folks at Wheaton College are freaking out because the “permission slips” are for sex without consequences. And that just isn’t okay to the followers of the sexually repressed St Paul, the founder of Christianity. As a result, the government is doing back-flips so that Wheaton College (and other similarly backward theists) can tell the government about not wanting to cover birth control and then the government can tell the insurance companies. All to keep the folks at Wheaton feeling godly.

But Wheaton is actually a “liberal” Christian college. The scientists there actually believe in evolution. They apparently are of the Catholic persuasion of thinking natural selection works but God at least created the whole thing and is tinkering behind the scenes. (I don’t have a problem with that. If you are going to be a theist, that’s about the most intellectually coherent way to go.) Of course, the college is not Catholic as is indicated by the firing of Philosophy professor Joshua Hochschild for converting to Catholicism.

In addition to this, the college is also quite aggressive in its hostility to same sex relationships. This caused some alumni in 2011 to start OneWheaton. It was specifically in response to Wheaton’s “Sexuality and Wholeness” series of sermons that taught that following Jesus and being in a same sex relationship were not compatible. Because as you may know, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, but not if they are one of those homos.”

What most strikes me about Wheaton College is that my neighbor is in ROTC there. I understand that the military is an unfortunate necessity. This is because human beings are awful. But Wheaton College is so interested in its status as a Christian college. They’ve decided for reasons I doubt they even understand that the moment a spermatozoa passes across an egg membrane, a soul pops into it. Thomas Aquinas didn’t think that, but who cares what one of the greatest theological thinkers of all time thought? Regardless, the college is apparently more interested in potential human beings than actual ones. Allowing employees to use hormonal birth control is unacceptable! But training students to be killers is just great!

This is one of the big reasons that our 80% Christian nation is so screwed up. Our Christians are more interested in politics than they are theology. They are more interested in apologizes for the power elite and gaining power themselves. And maybe that’s fine, because Jesus already blessed the poor in spirit, the mournful, and the gentle. I guess the Christians like those at Wheaton think they are taken of. They must think that “God helps those who help themselves,” even though it isn’t in the Bible. (It is in the Quran.) But that is as it should be, because for modern American Christianity, the Bible is at best of selective interest.

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One Perfect Dorothy Parker

Dorothy ParkerOn this day in 1893, the great writer Dorothy Parker was born. She is best known today for her clever sayings like, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think” and her proposed epitaph, “Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” But she was far more than this. She was quite an accomplished writer of poetry, short stories, screenplays, and nonfiction.

In her mid-20s, she became a replacement theater critic for Vanity Fair where she met people like Robert Benchley and Alexander Woollcott. Their lunches at the Algonquin Hotel became known as Algonquin Round Table. Basically, it was just a meeting place for clever and urbane people. But it was through this group that her work got a wider audience. According to Wikipedia, she published 300 poems during the 1920s. And she was on the board of editors of The New Yorker at its founding in 1925. During this period she also wrote a number of short stories, book reviews, and co-wrote the Broadway play Close Harmony.

In 1934 she went to Hollywood where she did quite well doing what we would now call “punching up” scripts. She did have screenwriting credit, however—most notably on A Star Is Born. In the 1950s, she was blacklisted because of her involvement in left wing politics. The executor of her will, for example, was Lillian Hellman and she bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King Jr. So of course she was blacklisted!

What I still find interesting today is that no one went after former or even current fascists. And you can see just how radical Parker was by the fact that nothing she believed in is considered radical today. But the point is that anyone who stands up for the people against the power elite is attacked by whatever media and political organs are controlled by the power elite. And today, that means all of them. Of course, Parker was fine. She had money from all of her writing and was still employable in the magazine industry at places like Esquire.

She drank to excess in later years—especially after the suicide of her second and third husband, Alan Campbell. She died of a heart attack in 1967 at the age of 73. Here she is reading her poem “One Perfect Rose”:

Happy birthday Dorothy Parker!

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Popcorn, Bottle, and Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-HeronMany of you may know of my fondness for Gil Scott-Heron and his funky proto-rap. I remember the first time I heard him, I was working as a baker in my late teens. The one nice thing about that job was that I was alone and so I could listen to the local alternative radio station. And on came “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It was a revelation, “The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal… The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised.”

Earlier today, my friend (and sometimes writer for this site) Will sent me a link to Scott-Heron’s song “The Bottle” with a note, “Doesn’t the bass line sound like corn popping?” I had to admit that it did. But going back over a lot of his work, that’s more generally true. That’s part of what makes his work funky. There is no fuck guitar, so it all comes down to the bass and the percussion. But the bass on “The Bottle” does sound more like a popcorn machine than any other song I’ve heard.

The song itself is deadly serious despite a really catchy tune and pleasant production. It’s about hopeless people who find their only solace in alcohol. It could be anything though. The bridge is slightly different each time, but the lyrics are:

Don’t you think it’s a crime
The way, time after time
Friends of mine
In the bottle
There’s people sure ‘nough
In the bottle

But the song offers no solutions, and not even much in the way of context. Maybe in the three years between “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “The Bottle,” Scott-Heron had become a bit more cynical. I don’t actually think so. But it is certainly true that Small Talk at 125th and Lenox with “Revolution” and “Whitey on the Moon” is more strident than Winter in America. I prefer the former, but musically the latter is better.

Anyway, here is “The Bottle”:

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Really Typical and Boring Extremism

Political SpectrumI was looking for images for a piece earlier today and I came upon an article apparently by Jay Reding (that’s the name of the site it’s on), The Destructive Politics Of Purity. Since the article included the graph at the left, I assumed he was one of those people who considered themselves independents. But that wasn’t the case. I looked through the site a bit and read the article. Mr Reding is as partisan a Republican as you are likely to find.

What he is getting at is that calling for purity in the 2008 Republican presidential nominee (John McCain) would only end in “four years of socialism” under Clinton or Obama. Actually, Clinton is a “Fabian socialist” and Obama is a “liberal crusader.” And he hypothesizes:

Does anyone think that conservatives will be welcome in a Clinton or an Obama White House? That people who believe in limited government and the rule of law will even get a voice at the table? That the Republicans will stop this country from taking a huge step farther down the road to serfdom? If so, then those people are hopelessly naive.

Nothing says “I’m a ideologically insulated true believer” like a good Hayek reference! But the truth is that conservatives were welcome in Obama’s White House. In fact, they were way too welcome. But you might think young Mr Reding would have been happy with Obama for reaching across the isle and peppering his White House with Republicans. Well, if he was, he never said anything.

In fact, he completely stopped blogging for 2009. He came back in 2010, but only to gloat about the coming Republican victory in November of that year. He had basically nothing to say about Obama. It was all horse race coverage. There was no Hayek. It was all, “Goooo team!” And that’s fine. But really: who cares?

The truth is that what insights are on the blog are straight out of Fox News and the rest of the right wing echo chamber. For example, he really thought that if Romney kept focused on the economy, he would win. But this is exactly the opposite of what Romney should have done. But knowing that would require not just listening to the editors of the Wall Street Journal, but looking at actual political science research like Lynn Vavreck’s The Message Matters.

The problem with most people on the right during 2012 was that they were so sure that the terrible economy (which they had worked so hard to cripple) would stop Obama from being re-elected. But as I thought everyone knew, the state of the economy is not what determines presidential elections; the trend of the economy does. And the economy has improved the entire time Obama has been in office. Romney needed to make the election about something other than the economy. He not only couldn’t do that; his advisers weren’t even smart enough to make him try.

I understand the desire to write about politics. But it’s important to have something to write. A lot of people ask me why I don’t write about this or that subject. And the reason is always the same: I don’t have anything to add to the conversation. But even when I am sleepwalking through the posts here, which I do sometimes (Reding writes an average of 5 posts a year; I do that per day), my outlook is something that doesn’t get voiced very much, even in the liberal world. If Reding were a libertarian, I could see it. It’s not like there aren’t already a bunch of libertarians spouting off, but at least they aren’t a major part of mainstream media. But just another conservative who thinks that Hillary Clinton is socialist? <i>Happy happy joy joy!</i>

What makes it all such a waste is that Mr Reding is a decent writer and clearly a smart man. But he is entirely typical: yet another upper-middle class man who can’t see beyond his own class. I’m sure that if you asked him, he’d tell you how hard he worked and that he earned everything he’s got. And I’m sure he’d be honest in saying that. But he’s also a poster boy for straight white male privilege. And I can’t help but think that he will never be able to see that.


I do feel a tiny bit bad about ragging on the young Republican, when all he has done is pollute the world with his limited thinking like so many others. But I did provide him with a link, which should more than compensate for any hurt feelings. And I welcome his criticism of my site or my humanity. I won’t read it, of course. But it would provide him his first post this year.

Update (21 August 2014 9:48 pm)

I just remembered what I meant to write rather than this rant. The image above perpetuates one of my most hated myths: independents are centrists. This is not true. In fact, independents are very often the most extreme people. I’ve known a lot of conservatives who won’t call themselves Republicans because they think the party is too liberal. Similarly (though less common in my experience), there are liberals who won’t call themselves Democrats because they think the party is too conservative. I agree with them, but I still call myself a Democrat.

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From the Laboratories of Democracy

Laboratory of Democracy
Image via Politico

I’m very interested in this idea that states are the laboratories of democracy. It comes from an opinion by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis where he wrote that a “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” The idea has always been that the federal government would use the best ideas. Of course, conservatives just use the idea to decimate the federal government and give control to state and local governments for reasons I will get to in a moment.


During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney made a really interesting argument about said laboratories. As you will remember, Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts when he got a healthcare reform law passed that went on to be the prototype for Obamacare. In fact, in 2008, Romney ran on this law that he was understandably proud of. But after Obamacare was passed and all the Republicans decided it was “Socialism! Socially, I tell you!” Romney was forced to repudiated the law. But how could he, given that it was the same one he had been so proud of?!

His solution was both brilliant and bold. He said that his law was great, but that was on the state level. It worked great on the state level. But it was wrong to force the law on the entire nation. In other words: states are the laboratories of democracy, and nothing should ever come out of the laboratories! Usually I would agree. Most of what comes out of those laboratories is pernicious in the extreme.

Literacy Tests

In 1855, Connecticut changed its state constitution to require literacy tests to vote. The problem was those Irish! As Steve Thornton explained in Literacy Tests and the Right To Vote, “Citing an old English legal principle, literacy test promoters argued that if a person was not sufficiently educated, his vote could be too easily manipulated. To opponents, literacy tests constituted a legal means to disenfranchising minorities and other ‘undesirables.’”

After Reconstruction, the southern states grabbed hold the results of Connecticut’s laboratory. But there was still the problem that these states didn’t want blacks voting regardless of how literate they were and they did want more affluent whites voting no matter how illiterate they were. Not a problem! “In theory, the literacy requirement applied to every citizen. In practice, however, officials in charge of voter registration could administer the test at their discretion, which resulted in a discriminatory singling out of African Americans, the poor, and other groups.” It wasn’t until an amendment of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 1970 that literacy tests were eliminated from Connecticut and other states.

Poll Tax

At the end of the Civil War, almost half the population of Florida was African American. This was a problem as far as the white elite were concerned. So after Reconstruction, they went about setting things “right.” As Darryl Paulson reported in, Florida’s History of Suppressing Blacks’ Votes, “[T]he 15th Amendment did not guarantee blacks the right to vote. Rather, it is a negative statement. It says the right to vote cannot be denied because of race.” In other words, blacks could be denied the right to vote as long as it technically wasn’t because of race.

Enter the poll tax:

Florida was the first state in the nation to adopt a poll tax. In 1889 the Legislature adopted a $2 annual poll tax as a requirement for voting. On the surface, there was nothing discriminatory about the tax. Both whites and blacks had to pay it.

In reality, the legislators knew that the $2 tax would affect blacks more because they were so poor. Although some poor whites also were disfranchised, they could often find ways to circumvent the tax. Candidates often paid the cost to entice voters. Election officials frequently “overlooked” the tax for whites.

Florida did away with the poll tax in 1938, because it created so much corruption due to the buying of votes. But it still took the federal government, in 1964, to outlaw this democratic laboratory innovation in many other states.

Voter ID

A much more recent innovation coming out of the democracy laboratories is Voter ID. What I’ve stressed here over the last few years is that Voter ID laws are really just indirect poll taxes. Republicans (Sorry, but it is always Republicans) see that those who don’t have state issued IDs are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. Forcing them to get these IDs is a kind of tax intended to disenfranchise them.

This great laboratory innovation first came out of Virginia, but it never made it into law because of the efforts the the Democratic Party and the NAACP. It wasn’t until 2004 when the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act was passed. The Supreme Court has blocked requiring identification for registering to vote, but the requirement for voting has been upheld. Since Obama became President, there has been an avalanche of these laws.

I’m sure in twenty years, we will all look back at voter ID laws with the same revulsion that we now have at the idea of poll taxes. For now, however, Republicans and other conservatives can walk around with their heads held high saying, “We’re just trying to make sure elections are clean!” But in the end, we will see this new innovation of the laboratories of democracy for the racist, classist, and partisan attack it is.

I don’t have much of a good feeling about the states being the laboratories of democracy. In general, they bring bad things to life. For all the problems of the federal government, it is usually what is required to stop the states from oppressing their own minority groups. And even when they do good things like RomneyCare in Massachusetts, conservatives just ignore them or claim that they don’t scale nationwide. The idea of the states being laboratories of democracy is good in theory, but in practice it is useless. Or much, much worse.

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Conservative Obsession With Purity

Brigadier General Jack D RipperJonathan Chait wrote an interesting article this morning, How Obamacare Violates the Conservative Cleanliness Fetish. In it, he tried to get to the bottom of the conservative opposition to Obamacare given that it is, after all, a conservative law. He posits the idea that it is all about the conservative obsession of political, social, and ideological hygiene. But he doesn’t go very far in explaining it, so let me take a crack.

You may remember Phil Davison, the man whose overwrought speech for the Republican nomination for Stark County Treasurer went viral. What you may not remember is what he said was the problem with the treasury department: infestation. Or as he pronounced it, “In-fes-tation!” Behind this is the concern about lack of purity: the treasury department had been invaded by impurities. The same thing is going on with Brigadier General Jack D Ripper in Dr Strangelove who only drinks rainwater and “pure grain alcohol.”

Chait quotes a study that show that the greater one’s obsession with cleanliness, the more likely he is to be politically conservative. I believe this goes way back. The literal idea of the proverb “cleanliness is next to Godliness” is about spiritual purity. But people apply to it to the physical world. This is most notable in the 12-step cult where the body being clean of drugs is equivalent to being spiritually clean.

It is not, therefore, surprising that conservatives would be obsessed with purity. Whether they are religious or not, conservatives believe in social standards—the idea that norms are given. Of course, it is curious that Republicans are almost always the first to abandon political norms in their efforts to establish what they think are the given social standards; but this is just because Republicans have become revolutionary in their political fights on behalf of conservatism. From the conservative perspective, if laws do not come from on high, what stops the nation from breaking into one big orgy?

There is a clear germophobic aspect to this. This is the idea that even the smallest impurities harm the body. And the ultimate expression of this is the slippery slope argument. Even if most people don’t see the problem with Social Security, the conservative sees it not as a policy end, but simply as a stepping stone to the Nazis rounding up all the Jews.

What’s more interesting is that fascism itself was obsessed with purity. And most of the conservative remedies to keep the nation “free” lead us far more directly to fascism. InfamousBrad over at Reddit wrote an interesting comment in a recent post, What is Fascism? It read in part:

Dr. Robert Altemeyer has surveyed huge numbers of people, and other researchers have followed up on his work by cross-checking his surveys against neuro-psychology, and they’ve concluded that right-wing authoritarianism, or fascism, is a psychological phenomenon, driven by three things:

  • Fear of filth and impurity
  • Fear of change from “ancient tradition”
  • Obsession with unambiguously knowing one’s place in any hierarchy

Neurophysiologists who’ve studied the brains of people who self-identify as far-right or fascist have argued that you can simplify the first two points: a fascist is someone who has an exaggerated emotional reaction of disgust when confronted with the possibility of anything “clean” coming in contact with anything “unclean.” Hence the fascist obsession with the word “purity”: ethnic purity, religious purity, artistic purity, national purity, sexual purity, cultural purity, etc.

So for conservatives, it isn’t that Obamacare in itself is all that bad. It is just another element of impurity in the body politic. It won’t kill us off, but it is just another poison to make us weaker and move us along the road to Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Think about this the next time Paul Ryan talks about how the social safety net is making able bodied men dependent. It’s all about purity. Or: “In-fes-tation!”

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Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt ChamberlainOn this day in 1936, the great basketball player Wilt Chamberlain was born. He was one of my heroes as a boy. I just loved basketball. This included playing it, even though I was short and uncoordinated. He was the father of the Holy Trinity on the Los Angeles Lakers along with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Quite a group. I don’t much enjoy basketball anymore; it’s too frenetic. But I greatly admire the people who play it.

What has always fascinated me about Chamberlain was that he was a really a bad free throw shooter. Really: for the last eleven years in the NBA, his field goal percentage was always higher than his free throw percentage. To some extent, I think this was an unconscious reaction to thinking that free throws were wrong. The rules of free throws were changed because of him. In college, he was able to simply dunk the ball from a standing position. His athleticism was amazing.

Of the ten highest scoring games for a player in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain has six. This, of course, includes the famous 100-point game between the Philadelphia Warriors and the New York Knicks. It’s interesting that in that game, Chamberlain shot 88% from the free throw line. It would seem that when he was inspired, he could shoot while unmolested from 15 feet away.

More than all of this, I read a couple of his books when I was older. He was incredibly insightful about the game. He was also a braggart and obviously insecure about himself relative to Bill Russell. There’s no doubt that Chamberlain was the greater athlete and solo player, but it is hard not to conclude that Russell was was the better team player&mdash;with the championships to prove it. But other than his understandable insecurities, Chamberlain came off as a decent guy. And an interesting one.

Here’s a little collection of him playing:

Happy birthday Wilt Chamberlain!

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