In a review of three recent books on education, Jonathan Zimmerman argues that “the biggest insult to the intelligence of American teachers is the idea that their intelligence doesn’t matter”:

“The teaching of A, B, C, and the multiplication table has no quality of sacredness in it,” Horace Mann said in 1839. Instead of focusing on students’ mental skills, Mann urged, teachers should promote “good-will towards men” and “reverence to God.” Teachers need to be good, more than they need to be smart; their job is to nurture souls, not minds. So [Getting Schooled author] Garret Keizer’s first supervisor worried that he might have too many grades of A on his college transcript to succeed as a high school teacher, and Elizabeth Green concludes her otherwise skeptical book [Building A Better Teacher] with the much-heard platitude that teachers need to “love” their students. Keizer is offended by comments like that, and he has every good reason to be. Do lawyers have to love their clients? Must doctors adore their patients? What American teachers need now is not love, but a capacity for deep and disciplined thinking that will reflect – and respect – the intellectual complexities of their job.

Sherman The Statesman?

Nov 24 2014 @ 7:16pm

D.H. Dilbeck parses Robert L. O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, an “effusive new biography” that “frequently offers an outright apologia” for the Civil War general sometimes accused of war crimes and even genocide. Part of O’Connell’s revisionist take is to emphasize Sherman’s achievements over his often overblown rhetoric, especially when it comes to his role in the making of modern America:

O’Connell devotes the majority of this first portrait [of Sherman as a strategist] to Sherman’s Civil War career. In the summer of 1863, midway through the war, Sherman’s strategic genius blossomed. From then until the war’s WAR AND CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  CIVIL WAR/LEADERSend, he perfected a hard-edged strategy for defeating the Confederacy. Sherman realized defeat was “ultimately a state of mind,” which meant he had “to utterly demoralize the Confederacy by making it look helpless.” Only then would the resilient Confederate people abandon their bloody rebellion. This strategy culminated in Sherman’s march across Georgia and South Carolina in late 1864 and early 1865. Before embarking, Sherman assured a skeptical Ulysses S. Grant, “I can make this march, and make Georgia howl!” The second half of that cable, though less well known, is far more revealing: “This may not be war, but rather statesmanship.” That is, Sherman’s military strategy always had a political goal in mind: to woo Confederates back into the Union like a shrewd statesman. O’Connell also rightly notes that the deeds of Sherman’s army during the March did not match the most ominous words of their commander.

Susan Schulten details one fascinating aspect of Sherman’s war-time manuevering – his use of cutting-edge maps:

Whether we characterize Sherman’s campaign as excessive and brutal or necessary and swift, there is no question that it was among the most ambitious campaigns of the war, because to fulfill Grant’s directive, Sherman had to take his armies beyond the reach of Union supply lines. This was unthinkable to most contemporary generals, and required a superior body of cartographic intelligence. In short, Sherman needed maps.

Read On

Alyssa Rosenberg revisits the debate over manners:

Civil disobedience often tests the desire of powerful organizations to be seen as legitimate and bound by clear rules and standards — it is, essentially, a test of manners and norms. There is something radical about making such a request for civility and good manners upward, and to turn powerful people’s sense of their own sophistication and goodness against them.

Asking someone who would not use racial slurs against Jews or African Americans why he or she is uncomfortable extending that same courtesy and consideration to Native Americans will force a genuinely good-hearted, thoughtful person to confront his or her contradictions. Asking someone like physicist Matt Taylor whether he considered the feelings of his female colleagues and science fans everywhere before putting on that stupid bowling shirt would probably make him think twice.

At the same time, she concedes that these “conversations and requests for polite considerations will not work with all people, and they are certainly not a solution to the significant structural problems of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity that confront us today”:

Read On

Misshapen Cities

Nov 24 2014 @ 6:22pm

Another strike against Manhattan: Henry Grabar flags new research suggesting that circular cities are superior to their elongated counterparts. He notes a paper by MIT scholar Mariaflavia Harari, who “analyzed more than 450 Indian cities to elucidate what influence, if any, a city’s shape would have on indicators like rent, wages and commute time”:

What she found is that “compactness” — in her paper, the nearer, basically, that a city’s shape is to a circle — is a kind of urban amenity, like a subway line or a Manhattan movie theater, that people will pay for. All else being equal, India’s compact cities have lower wages, higher rents and shorter commutes. “One standard deviation deterioration in city shape, corresponding to a 720 meter increase in the average within-city round-trip,” Harari writes, “entails a welfare loss equivalent to a 5 percent decrease in income.”

An instructive comparison is between Kolkota (Calcutta) and Bengaluru (Bangalore). Among the country’s largest cities, these are on opposite ends of Harari’s measurement system: giraffe-like Kolkota has the “worst” geometry, squat Bengaluru the “best.” According to Harari, “if Kolkota had the same compact shape that Bengaluru has, the average trip to the center would be shorter by 4.5 kilometers and the average trip within the city would be shorter by 6.2 km.” Just a couple of miles difference, right? But the average commute speed in India is 12 km per hour, and is forecast to fall to 9 km per hour within the decade. For the average person, on an average potential trip, compactness could save an hour a day

(Map of Manhattan via Flickr user Nick Normal)


I’ve long been fascinated by Angela Merkel, and not entirely sure why. She’s been German Chancellor for nine years now, is the most powerful politician on the continent, and has approval ratings of over 70 percent. And yet she somehow eludes easy characterization and her studied affect of dullness deflects any serious scrutiny. And so she has hovered around the edges of my brain – a Thatcher who is also an un-Thatcher, a woman in power for a decade who somehow doesn’t prompt the polarization and drama of the Iron Lady.

George Packer’s long but rich profile manages to crack this puzzle a little. Merkel’s strain of tedium is mostly of the good kind. She’s so thoroughly a pragmatist that she has largely overcome the left-right ideological battle in Germany. And, partly because she was in East Germany at the time, she missed the culture war battles of the late 1960s and 1970s. And so she has risen above the fray – while never veering very much from the dead center of German politics. And yet, she is also a brilliant, revenge-seeking pole-climber of the first order (and I mean that very much as a compliment). This story is eye-opening:

Angela was physically clumsy—she later called herself “a little movement idiot.” At the age of five, she could barely walk downhill without falling. “What a normal person knows automatically I had to first figure out mentally, followed by exhausting exercise,” she has said. According to Benn, as a teen-ager Merkel was never “bitchy” or flirtatious; she was uninterested in clothes, “always colorless,” and “her haircut was impossible—it looked like a pot over her head.”

A former schoolmate once labelled her a member of the Club of the Unkissed. (The schoolmate, who became Templin’s police chief, nearly lost his job when the comment was published.) But Merkel was a brilliant, ferociously motivated student. A longtime political associate of Merkel’s traces her drive to those early years in Templin. “She decided, ‘O.K., you don’t fuck me? I will fuck you with my weapons,’ ” the political associate told me. “And those weapons were intelligence and will and power.”

She bided her time but delivered a ballsy coup de grace to her party leader Helmut Kohl. And I loved this story of how she actually won the Chancellorship after a close election which her main rival, Gerhard Shröder, assumed guaranteed his victory over the schlubby, gray woman seated next to him:

Read On

Ani Ucar reports on the gay wing at LA’s Men’s Central Jail “an exceptionally rare, if not unique, subculture, the only environment of its kind in a major U.S. city”:

Nothing like it exists in America’s 21 largest urban jails, all contacted by the Weekly, where officials described in far more modest terms their own steps to deal with and house gay inmates. San Francisco has a transgender housing area, but gay inmates live among the general population. In New York’s Rikers Island, whose similar gay wing was shuttered in 2005, a jail spokesman laughed out loud, saying that whoever decides which men get placed in L.A. County’s gay jail wing “must have really good gay-dar.”…

Read On

Obamacare’s Auto-Renewal Mess

Nov 24 2014 @ 4:37pm

It could create a backlash:

Unless people provide updated information and have their eligibility re-determined, most who received subsidies for marketplace coverage in 2014 will automatically receive the same dollar level of subsidies in 2015. (These subsidies consist of advance payments of premium tax credits, which are paid to insurers on enrollees’ behalf to help cover the enrollees’ premiums.) But since many factors that affect the level of people’s subsidies change from year to year, a high percentage of people who auto-renew will receive advance premium credits that turn out to be too low or too high. To avert such problems, consumers need to return to the [Federally Facilitated Marketplace] (rather than auto-renewing) to receive an updated eligibility determination. That is the only way to ensure they receive the correct level of benefits.

Adrianna McIntyre is concerned:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Nov 24 2014 @ 4:20pm

An epic rap about regressing with the folks:

Christin Scarlett Milloy couldn’t get a mortgage approval, because she couldn’t get a photo ID, because she’s transgender:

I sat on the phone and patiently explained why I can’t provide photo ID. Because I don’t have any. Because the government has destroyed all my previous ID documents and refused to replace them on several occasions. Because I am transgender. Yes, really. No, I don’t think it’s fair, either. Yes, a lot of people are surprised it’s so hard for us, but there it is. No, I really don’t have anything at all. Mmm, OK. Call me back. Goodbye.

We looked into other ways I could prove my identity. It turns out, there aren’t any. What if I show the dozens of letters back and forth between me and the government, where officials explain that my identity is not in question, but they still won’t send me new ID, because I refuse to check “male” on the application form? Apparently that doesn’t count.

How about expired government-issued ID? Back from a simpler time, when the government and I agreed on what my gender should be. I have that; it even has my photo and my old name on it. (Old-name ID presented alongside a legal ”change of name” certificate is considered valid to identify a person by their new name.) But alas, it’s against the rules to accept expired ID, even under exceptional circumstances.

Steve Jimenez is not interested in allowing the liberal media monitor to slime his book on the Matthew Shepard murder while offering no substance to back up their claims. In Out magazine, he challenges their assumptions:

In its attacks against me and my book, Media Matters relies frequently on the claim that “investigators… have denounced the book as ‘fictional.’ ” Although two police officers, Dave O’Malley and Rob DeBree, have quarreled with some of the findings of my 13-year bookofmatt-jimenez_0investigation, Media Matters fails to mention that several key law enforcement officials involved in the Shepard case agree with my conclusions. In September 2014, veteran prosecutor Cal Rerucha, who won life sentences for Shepard’s assailants, was quoted in The Casper Star-Tribune stating unequivocally, “If methamphetamine [hadn’t been present] in this case, we wouldn’t have had a murder.” The newspaper also noted, “[Rerucha] remains adamant that Shepard’s death wasn’t a hate crime.” He has repeatedly gone on record praising me and my work. In 2004, O’Malley, a police commander at the time of the murder, urged prosecutor Rerucha not to talk to ABC News 20/20 for a story I produced about undisclosed aspects of the Shepard case — “because of all the good that’s been done in Matt’s name,” according to Rerucha. In essence, O’Malley tried to enlist Rerucha in covering up the truth.

Lieutenant Ben Fritzen of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, who was a lead detective on the Shepard case and took killer Aaron McKinney’s recorded confession, has also stated on the record that the homicide was driven by drugs and money, not anti-gay bias. Former Laramie officer and state drug enforcement agent Flint Waters, who arrested McKinney’s accomplice Russell Henderson on the night of the crime, agrees with Rerucha and Fritzen. Is Media Matters saying these and other law enforcement officials interviewed for my book have been “discredited” and “debunked,” too?

There’s one way to find out, isn’t there? In the piece, Steve dares someone from Media Matters to debate him in public on the facts behind the case. Will they? And if they won’t, will they retract the smears and apologize?