Down at the Crossroad with Robert Johnson

Robert JohnsonOn this day back in 1884, the only person to ever drop a nuclear bomb on a group of humans, Harry S. Truman was born. He did it twice, because that was all the bombs he had at the time. Anti-communist who conservatives still worship even though there aren’t any more communists, Friedrich Hayek was born in 1899. The great director Roberto Rossellini was born in 1906. And hugely successful writer who was in no way better than I am, Peter Benchley was born in 1940.

David Attenborough and Don Rickles are both 87 today. Now that’s an odd couple! Poet Gary Snyder is 83. Toni Tennille, who love has kept together with Daryl “The Captain” Dragon all these years, is 73. Speaking of pianists, the great Keith Jarrett is 68. Chris Frantz of Talking Heads is 62. Melissa Gilbert is 49. And hugely successful writer who is in distinct ways much better than I am, Naomi Klein is 43.

But some days are not even close, regardless of how much I admire Naomi Klein. The day belongs to the great Mississippi blues man Robert Johnson who was born on this day back in 1911. Other than the music, there is almost nothing that we know about the man. A big part of the problem is that Johnson was so influential during his brief career that there were more or less Robert Johnson Impersonators: people who would use his name and do his songs. So the widely believed date of his death (16 August 1938) may have been the death of one of their impersonators.

Regardless, we have a very good collection of songs (more than for most of the artists of that time). Here’s one of my favorites, “Come Home in My Kitchen”:

But you may prefer “Cross Road Blues,” which just about every rock musician worth his salt has covered:

Happy birthday Robert Johnson!

Tea Party Myth

No Tea PartyI was just reading a very good article by Greg Sargent over at The Plum Line about the new Republican push to use the Debt Ceiling to enact policies they don’t otherwise have the political power to demand. Sargent believes it is all a game; the Republican leadership has already stated that they will not actually crash the economy, so it is a meaningless threat. I think he is being a bit optimistic. The Republicans are hardly consistent. And just because they know crashing the economy would effectively end their political party, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t do it. Chauncey DeVega at AlterNet has argued, How the Modern GOP Is Like a Death Cult. And he’s right.

But I was taken by something that Sargent wrote about the haplessness of the Republican leadership. “They don’t know how to get House Tea Partyers to agree to any constructive way out of this mess.” Why do we refer to the “Tea Party wing of the Republican Party”? Do parties have parties? No, they don’t. We use this term because we are still accepting the original media framing of the Tea Party movement. The idea was that this was the rise of some previously uninvolved part of the electorate that was tired of the right and the left. Of course, it was no such thing. It was 99% pure Republican Party base. If it was unhappy with the Republican Party, it was only because it though the party was too liberal.

So I have a problem with referring to the “tea partiers” of the Republican Party. We should refer to them correctly as the extreme wing of the Republican Party. Because that is what the term means to people on the left. But it allows people on the right to think that the “tea partiers” are innovative thinkers who transcend the GOP, when they are more the opposite. They are the least transcendent thinkers in the conservative movement.

Only try to realize the truth.

What truth?

There is no Tea Party. Then you’ll see, that it is not the Tea Party that bends, it is only yourself.

Nothing New on Immigration

Dream ActJonathan Chait wrote this morning that immigration reform is different this time. He focused on the conservative push back against the Heritage Foundation paper than said that immigration reform would cost us a trillion dollars and cause us all to die of syphilis next year. As he correctly noted, this paper is actually not any worse than other papers conservatives accepted like Paul Ryan’s budget causing unemployment to drop to 3% and that the Bush tax cuts would pay for themselves.

All of this is true, and yet I don’t think that immigration reform is really different this time. What you have to understand is that the modern Republican Party doesn’t really make compromises. Steve Benen wrote an article yesterday at Maddow Blog about Eric Cantor’s new Republican rebranding campaign. The great new idea is to appeal to women with a media blitz. And what are they going to tell women? Only that they should support the “Working Families Flexibility Act.” That is a euphemism, of course. It should be called the “Employer Flexibility to Screw Employees Act.” It is an idea that the Republican Party has been pushing for decades. My point is that even when Republicans reach out to a group of people, they aren’t willing to do anything; it’s just, “You should love us just the way we are because we ain’t changing a thing.”

The same thing is going on in the immigration bill. There has always been a large part of the Republican elite who want immigration reform. Let’s face it: it’s good for business. In the long term, it is good for everyone. In the short term, it is good for Walmart. The business interests who will lose out on more legal workers are small and weak. So the Republican leadership wants this and always has. What’s different this time is that they lost last time. Before, they thought with a Republican president, they would be able to get their law. Now they know they have to fight for it.

And look at how typical the conservative response to the Heritage paper was. Those who are against immigration reform embraced it; those who are for immigration reform denounced it. And yes, those denouncing it did it with facts. But conservatives are fine with facts when they are helpful. But facts have no relationship to truth for them. They are just rhetorical devices. All we are seeing now is an argument between two sides that has long existed in the Republican Party. There’s nothing new here.

Un-Mooring of Conservative Economics

Reinhart and RogoffJonathan Bernstein is curious about what Kevin Drum calls the “Hack Gap.” In an article yesterday, he looked at Obamacare. Every time an insurance company announces a rate hike, conservative economists come out of the woodwork to proclaim that it is all the fault of Obamacare and just wait until next year when everyone will die of syphilis. But when a new study comes out that finds that healthcare cost increases are slowing by more than would be predicted by the recession, there are not any liberal economists making the rounds proclaiming that Obamacare is our savior.

This behavior is not limited to Obamacare. On just about any economic policy issue, this is what we see. Bernstein doesn’t really offer any answers to his question, but there were a few good comments. (There were also two conservative commenters who think that Krugman is a hack because he isn’t nice. And they posted again and again, because as far as I can tell, conservatives on the internet don’t have jobs.) They all revolved around the idea of policing. When a conservative economist comes along with an outlandish idea (for example, Reinhart & Rogoff), the conservative media universe completely accepts it; there is no push back. But if the same bad science came from a liberal economist, there would be major push back.

As an anonymous poster put it:

But a wannabe [liberal hack economist] who wrote an article crediting this inflation slowdown to the ACA would be contradicted by Ezra Klein and his nerd minions within minutes; then dismissed by Yglesias, lampooned by Chait, and finally, somewhat bafflingly, called a disgusting evil bloated maggot by Greenwald.

I think there is something deeper going on here, however. The truth is that there is no comparable divide in foreign policy or even social policy. There are a lot of supposed expert hacks when it comes to this. (But I will admit there is a lot more hackery on the conservative side.) Why is it we just don’t see this in economics? I think it is that the left lost its economic moorings in the 1970s and 1980s. The political success of economic conservatism caused them to focus on data. This in turn caused liberal economics to move substantially to the right. Given that conservative economics was moored to an ideology, it naturally moved to the right as well. And this ended with conservative economists turning into apologists for the ideology.

I know this sounds harsh, but I am quite certain about it. The Reinhart & Rogoff episode was telling. Normally, academics appreciate outside attention, but they are very leery of non-professionals overstating their work. In the case of Rogoff, it was just the opposite; he went out of his way to push an un-nuanced understanding of their work. That isn’t the behavior of a serious scientist; it is the behavior of an ideological hack. And Kenneth Rogoff isn’t some minor player; he is (or was) a highly respected economist.

This all comes back to my often stated problem with American economic policy: it’s come off the rails. Now the “liberal” side is basically what the science of economics would dictate. The conservative side is an ideological travesty. That’s not the way it is supposed to work. The middle is supposed to be what reality is. Then the two sides are supposed to fight over changes to that. For example, a liberal might argue that slightly higher taxes is not best for the economy, but it will limit suffering. A conservative might argue that slightly lower taxes will cause wages to go up. But this isn’t what we see. Conservative economics is no longer moored to reality.

Learning Styles and Math

The truth is, we don’t all learn in the same way.  We have our own, unique learning styles.  The three most basic categories of these are auditory, visual, and tactile/kinesthetic.  Some children might learn better while listening to the teacher, or maybe looking at illustrations and graphs.  Others might learn better doing hands-on activities.

Like my son, many kids with ADHD do better when they can touch and move while they are learning.  As a homeschool mom, I have researched educational methods that complement my son’s individual learning style, which is primarily a combination of visual and tactile/kinesthetic.  Since I am relatively new to homeschooling, I have so much more to learn.  The amount of resources available is actually overwhelming.

For now I will just give some input on math.  This past year, we’ve been working with the RightStart Mathematics program.  The really great things about it are all the manipulatives and games that are included, so my son can touch, see, and do.  Also, the instruction seems more interactive and conceptual than many math programs I have come across, and the lessons have been easy for me to teach.  I won’t say it’s perfect.  My son still has difficulty focusing sometimes, which leads to some frustration and conflict.  This conflict is largely avoided, however, by taking more frequent breaks and limiting the length of the sessions.  Overall, I definitely recommend the Right Start program.

The following are recommendations by other homeschool parents for kids who are more visual and tactile:

*Touch Math
*Teaching Textbooks

All of these programs have really great websites which allow you to make an informed decision.  I’m strongly thinking about Teaching Textbooks for next year, just to see how it is.  It is interactive and mostly computer-based using CD-ROMs.  My son is such a techno kid that he might really like it.

For more information about learning styles, I recommend the following books:

Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson


Multiple Intelligences:  New Horizons in Theory and Practice by Howard E. Gardner