Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Equus Mortuus 1

President Bush’s privatization scheme for Social Security is dead in the water, but Hyman comes in a day late and a dollar short with a series of commentaries that beat this dead horse for an entire week, revealing two “facts” about Social Security each day.

Hyman calls Social Security the “world’s largest Ponzi scheme.” I don’t know of any Ponzi scheme that’s lifted tens of millions of elderly out of poverty and kept millions more from falling into it. In fact, Social Security is perhaps the most successful governmental program in history. It is no more a Ponzi scheme than any insurance policy in which you pay a small amount in on a regular basis with the promise that you will have benefits if/when you need them.

Of course, this economics is based on an ethos of faith and shared responsibility. In both Social Security and insurance, those of us who don’t need benefits pay into the system to support those who do need benefits today. We do so with the understanding that when we need benefits ourselves, we will draw on the contributions of others. Both Social Security and insurance are based on promises made from one group of citizens to another.

But because Social Security is based on promises made to today’s seniors through the government, it is anathema to conservatives (as it was when it was first introduced). I’ll say more about the “every man for himself” philosophy that’s behind the conservative position later on in the week. For now, let’s just recognize that it’s a pessimistic, mean-spirited, selfish, un-American, and (dare I say) un-Christian approach to civic life.

So let’s look at the first two of Hyman’s “phacts” about Social Security, and then compare them with the real facts.

Hyman Phact #1:

Social Security is a pay as you go system. The FICA taxes collected from today's
workers are paid out to today's retirees. Sixteen workers used to pay in for
every retiree collecting benefits. In the next generation it will be two workers
paying in for every one retiree.

Real Fact: Not all FICA taxes collected today are used to pay for benefits because we have more workers than retirees. That’s why we have a Social Security surplus. Yes, the aging of the baby boomers will mean that we will have less workers per retiree in the future, but the fact that the boomers are paying into the system as workers today will mean that there will be a surplus from which to pay them benefits after they retire for a long, long time.

Moreover, an economic reality that Hyman and other privatization privateers ignore is the fact that worker productivity has steadily increased over time (roughly doubling every 36 years). As Doug Orr, a professor of economics who is an authority on Social Security, points out in an essay that appeared in the journal Dollars and Sense points out, this means that by 2040, it will take fewer workers to pay into the system to keep it operational, and that in fact both workers’ and retirees’ income will go up.

Hyman Phact #2:
Social Security is going broke. It begins deficit spending by 2018 and by 2042
it will no longer be able to meet its obligations.

Real Fact: Social Security is not going broke. The study Hyman cites simply says that the Social Security trust fund will run out by 2042. At that point, incoming revenue from taxes will be needed to pay benefits. But as we noted above, the increased productivity of workers will go a long way in offsetting the effects of the trust fund having been spent.

But the news is actually even better than that. The gloom and doom predictions about the trust fund going bust in 40 years are based on unrealistic expectations about the growth of the economy. Again, Orr points out that the bankruptcy prediction relied on by people like Hyman assumes a 1.8% growth in GDP for the next 75 years. The problem is that there has never been an extended period of time when we’ve had that stagnant of an economy (even including the Great Depression). If the economy grows at a more realistic (but still highly conservative) rate of 2.4%, the trust fund will not be depleted, and we’ll either have to raise benefits or cut taxes to reduce the surplus money that Social Security will be building up.

And those are the factual Counterpoints.

Hyman Index: 2.78

Monday, August 29, 2005

Another Day, Another Slander

Mark Hyman’s mailbag segments rarely rise to the level of meriting a response. By now, we all know the drill: save viewer comments for the lowest rated night of the week and only offer responses from critics when these quotations are (or can be made to look like) knee-jerk reactions or name calling. Never cite a coherent negative comment.

But Hyman’s recent segment airing comments by those who responded to his editorial on reinstating the draft are particularly troubling as they show Hyman at his lowest: distorting the words of others to make personal attacks on them, and doing so against private citizens.

You might remember that Hyman argued that bringing back the draft would be a disaster because it would bring “petty criminals, drug users, the lazy, and conduct cases” into the military.

Two viewers wrote in to point out that this comment assumes that every member of the U.S. armed services is an upstanding person and only civilians could possibly fall into these undesirable categories. This is obviously a false assumption; if it weren’t, then the military penitentiary at Leavenworth would have been turned into the world’s biggest B&B long ago. Of course most soldiers (like most civilians) are decent people. But to suggest that a draft would suddenly sully the pristine ranks of the military is simplistic and willfully naïve.

But instead of making a cogent counterargument (perhaps nuancing his earlier point by saying that while some soldiers might be less than exemplary individuals, a draft could lead to a larger number of such troublemakers entering the military than the armed services could easily handle), Hyman simply accuses his critics of (altogether now) “hating the troops.”

Chris of North Tonawanda, New York demonstrated that there is no shortage of people who hate our servicemen and women by writing, "petty criminals, drug users, the lazy, conduct cases and others…ARE in the military." GW of Oklahoma City commented, "There will always be drug abuse and thieves in our military."

Notice that neither Chris or GW say that all or most soldiers fall into these categories. They simply point out the obvious fact that there are such people in uniform now. Perhaps after saying this, Chris and GW filled pages with vitriol aimed at America’s men and women in Iraq, but I sort of doubt it. My guess is that they simply wrote to point out Hyman’s simplistic rationale wasn’t based on reality. But as we know all too well, Hyman doesn’t deal well with those who point out flaws in his arguments, so he relies on the only tool he feels comfortable using: the personal attack. Apparently feeling no hesitancy in purposefully misreading the comments of his readers (and assuming that his viewers are too stupid to pick up on this), Hyman slanders two Americans who committed the unconscionable crime of pointing out his weak reasoning.

Chalk up two more names on the list of folks who have the makings of a successful defamation suit against Hyman, a list that includes Senator John Kerry, Senator John McCain, Senator Ted Kennedy, Reverend Jesse Jackson, teachers, Hispanics, Democrats, New Yorkers, non-Christians etc., etc., etc.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Guide to Choosing the Right "Point": Don't.

Well, as we expected, the recent series of “Points” devoted to higher education ends with a full-throated endorsement of the book Choosing the Right College put out by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

You don’t need to hear any more from me about the politics behind the ISI itself. Needless to say, the political slant of the organization (and its guide) goes unmentioned in correspondent Dina Nesheiwat’s report. We are simply told that “the guide covers topics that matter most to the serious student such as the presence or absence of courses key to a well-rounded liberal arts education.”

I haven’t read the book myself, so I can’t comment directly on it. Instead, I’ve gone to and compiled some telling excerpts from customer reviews written by people of various political stripes who have read it.

Before we get to those, I just wanted to point out one particularly unethical aspect of the way this whole series has been framed. Mark Hyman has often claimed that criticism of “The Point” for its reactionary views is immaterial, since it the excerpts are clearly labeled “commentary.” The views, we are told, are simply those of Hyman himself, and not those of Sinclair.

But as we’ve seen, this entire series was created in a way to make it appear as a news report, not commentary. This reached a new low in the final installment. In introducing the segment by Nesheiwat, Hyman says, “Correspondent Dina Nesheiwat filed this report.,” [Emphases mine]. Nesheiwat herself concludes the piece, ”For the Point. In Wilmington, Delaware. I'm Dina Nesheiwat.”

This language (along with the conceit of having the piece done by someone other than Hyman and taking the form of interviews) is meant to do one thing: give the segment the feel of a standard news report, despite the fact that those creating it and those interviewed in it have a specific political agenda. Could there be a more obvious example of a lack of journalistic ethics?

As for the book itself, longtime readers might remember that at about this time last year “The Point” editorialized in favor of Choosing the Right College and we responded by exposing the conservative slant of the guide, including a couple of reader reviews. What follows below is a lengthier list of excerpts culled from reviews of various editions of the book.

To be fair, we must note that there were many positive reviews of the book as well. But as some other reviewers noted, this is the sort of book that will get rave reviews from people who happen to share its narrow political ideology. What’s most telling about the excerpts I’ve included is that many of them don’t simply criticize the book because it takes a conservative point of view. Some reviewers note that the book is filled with objective, factual inaccuracies and typos, and doesn’t include an index (both indicators of slovenly editorial practices and inattention to detail). Others note that the book only reviews highly selective and highly expensive colleges. If you are a parent of a student with a B average and/or if you don’t have at least $25,000 dollars a year burning a hole in your pocket, the guide is close to useless, no matter what your political persuasion.

Another reviewer who described himself as a conservative who didn’t want his son becoming some sort of “Alan Alda-type” liberal (and who presumably is precisely the target audience for this book) noted that even for parents with a conservative political and social streak, the book is misleading. He said that the book only rates colleges based on criteria such as core curriculum and whether or not the institutions have (gasp!) a women’s studies program or not. As a result, he describes taking his son on campus visits to some colleges recommended by the guide, only to find out that these colleges had major problems with binge drinking and were widely known as “party schools.” Apparently even as a guide for conservative parents and students, the book fails.

Here, in no particular order, are excerpts from the reader reviews of Choosing the Right College by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

The book absolutely lambasts schools that harbor
outspoken and/or outrageous liberal professors, women's studies departments,
African-American studies departments, gay/lesbian activities, etc. The reality
is that these things are a very small part of what goes on at schools like
Stanford, Harvard, and Brown. They do not have enough critical mass to affect a
serious student. It would be a mistake to throw out any school based upon this
book's comments in this area.

There are complaints from seemingly unhappy students about politicized
departments, but they're only politicized if they lean left-ward. This book
tends to hate Africana and Women's Studies programs. It kept complaining about
how Stanford abandoned its Western Civ requirement for a world cultures,
American cultures, and gender studies requirement, then quotes a student who
says, "The General Education Requirement forces students to take some sort of
feminist class." Well, call me crazy, but I'm reading that it's a world
cultures, American cultures, AND gender studies requirement, not just gender

This book, like so many voices in America today, tells readers to avoid exposure
to facts and arguments from different political perspectives. Is the case for
the Right today so intellectually fragile that students need to be counseled to
avoid certain classes, programs, and colleges, lest they be "corrupted"?

The book can hardly be called a college guide because it looks at only 125
schools. Of these, the vast majority are either Ivies, other highly selective
private schools or a few prestigious state universities (e.g.,Berkeley). The
target audience for this book consists of honor students with minimum board
scores of 1,300 or better. It provides little meaningful information for the 'B'
average student.

I am so disappointed with the gross printing and factual errors that the book
contains. I'd like to be charitable and say that everyone makes a mistake, but,
in this case, there are too many glaring errors for one not to be insulted for
paying money for the book.

The back of the book states that the book is "based on in-depth research."
However, the work fails to site any sources of information.

This book's subtitle is: "the whole truth about American's top schools" which is
misleading to the extreme. The authors use this volume to identify universities
and colleges which don't conform to their conservative view of the world. The
descriptions of schools such as Brown and Dartmouth are not only unfair and
misrepresentative, the tone is sometimes nasty and plain mean spirited. "The
whole truth"? -- not even part of it.

So, a book that receives praise from conservatives such as Thomas Sowell and Dr.
Laura Schlesinger ought to sound alarm bells immediately in the head of the
person seeking a BALANCED college guide. The reviews of the schools inside
pretty much criminalize intellectualism, freedom, and the Young Democrats.

From the editorial reviews posted, I expected a lot of information about HOW to
choose the right college (as the title suggests). Unfortunately, only about 25
pages were devoted to this subject.

"Choosing the Right College" is written by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
(ISI) with no authors listed. This is because there can't really be actual
people around who feel that all advances in higher education made since the
1950's are bad.

Recently, we reviewed several of the current college guides in preparation for
helping some grandchildren. Each guide provided some useful information that was
not available in the others (and each was lacking in some way), but the ISI
guide seemed to have a strong political agenda that, unfortunately, clouded the
opinions provided.

I found this book very strange. It is misrepresenting itself as a general
college guide. The only people who would find it helpful are neo-conservatives
whose only criteria in choosing a university is that it not have any "feminists"
or "multiculturalism" on campus.

I have visited one of the colleges this book recommends, and examined its
library carefully. I was appalled. Apparently any scientific discoveries that
post-date the 1840s cannot be part of the "core curriculum". No thanks. Not for
me. I'll send my kids to university, where they can study the classics AND study
subjects whose very names were unknown to the ancients.

And those are The Counterpoints.

PS. As far as my predictions that I made earlier in the week, I’m giving myself 2.5 out of 3. Dina Nesheiwat does in fact seem to be the same 23 year old fashion model by the same name, and the ISI’s Choosing the Right College was the guide recommended by “The Point.” The group “Accuracy in Academia” was not cited, but I’m giving myself half credit since I did say that ISI would be mentioned. Of course, being able to predict the contents of “The Point” is not exactly a major achievement—originality is not a quality Hyman possesses in abundance.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Propaganda 101 at "The Point"

On the rare occasion when I’m not teaching seminars on socialist lesbian vampires and forcing students to sing a rousing chorus of “The Internationale,” I teach college writing.

When I talk to students about how to put together an effective argument, I make a point of mentioning that two of the things that will immediately make your audience suspect that you’re not dealing with them honestly are being evasive in stating your position and using obvious hyperbole to make your point. Both of these are telltale signs of a writer/speaker who is attempting to mislead or manipulate the audience, and who probably hasn’t thought through his or her own position in a rigorous way to begin with. It doesn’t take long for an intelligent reader to sniff out a poseur when the text reeks of desperation, and that’s the underlying source of both evasiveness and hyperbole. Those who use them know that their argument won’t cut it on its own merits.

Perhaps you sense where I’m going with this.

the latest installment of what’s become a mini-series infomercial for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, “Point” correspondent Dina Nesheiwat interviews Sarah Longwell, Communications Director of the ISI.

As in yesterday’s installment, the ISI’s political affiliation goes unmentioned. Instead, the segment presents the ISI simply as a source of classroom materials, grants, and scholarships that encourage the “discussion of diverse topics and viewpoints.”

But as we saw yesterday, the ISI’s president has clearly stated that the raison d’etre of the organization is to advance a conservative political agenda on college campuses.
Can there be any doubt that the underlying thesis of this series of “Points” is that college campuses are far too liberal and that conservatism must be actively imported into higher education to make up for this bias?

But if that’s the thesis, why haven’t any of the “Points” thus far stated this position? Why have they been wrapped in the trappings of disinterested news segments and failed to mention ISI’s stated political agenda? If this thesis is valid and easily supportable, why isn’t it simply asserted and defended? Must “Point” viewers be misled in order to accept the position advocated by Hyman & Co.? If so, what does that tell us about the strength and validity of that position?

Instead, we get snippets of an interview with Longwell who, among other things, states that, “The problem is not that kids [sic] are getting a biased education. It's that they're getting no education at all.”

Really? College students aren’t getting any education at all? Do you actually believe that, Ms. Longwell?

Fortunately for us, we don’t have to leave that hanging as a rhetorical question. Longwell has kindly answered that question for us, courtesy of
a quotation from her found on the website of Kenyon College, from which she graduated in 2002.

"I took 'Quest for Justice' with (Professor of Political
Science) Pamela Jensen, and it changed my entire life . . . Professor Jensen
taught me to think and to discuss in a way I never had before . . . The
conservative role models that I had at Kenyon were unbelievably decent and
good-hearted people . . . They showed me a vision of conservatism that I wanted
to emulate—always wanting to give back and contribute."

So apparently Longwell did get an education in college, one that she says is directly responsible changing her life and with getting her employment at ISI.

But surely Kenyon College is a rose among thorns, right? It must be some evangelical Bible college that is not representative of liberal arts education as practiced at today’s colleges.

Actually, it’s not. Kenyon College is a small, private liberal arts college of the sort that can be found across the United States (and from which I myself graduated). Apparently, Longwell was able to not only get an education but find conservative role models at the same institution that has graduated Paul Newman, Mark Rosenthal (CEO of MTV), Carl Djerassi (inventor the birth control pill), and Allison Janney (the actor who plays the Chief of Staff to Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett in The West Wing).

But Kenyon must at the very least stick exclusively to the tried and true curriculum that does not veer into anything that might be taken as culturally progressive, right? Unlike all those other colleges around the country, where (according to Kenneth Cribb, president of the ISI) you’re more likely to be taught about the undead rather than about James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” Kenyon must offer thoroughly traditional courses that would have been as familiar to students in 1905 as they are in 2005.

Let’s take a look at a brief list of Kenyon College offerings, followed by my creative interpretation of what folks such as Cribb and his friend Pat “The Assassin” Roberts might say about them:

ENGL 103.02 “Monsters and Monstrosity” [Satanism! They’ve banished God and replaced him with Beelzebub!]

ENGL 103.03 “Seductions” [My God! They’re teaching children how to seduce one another? What’s the final exam—an orgy?]

ENGL 103.04 “Other Worlds” [New Age nonsense is being taught instead of the classics!]

ENGL 265 “Postcolonial Modernities: South Asia and the Middle East” [Multiculturalism run amok!]

ENGL 318 Cinema and Sexuality [They’re feeding pornography to our kids!]

PHIL 225 Existentialism [It’s godless AND French!]

RELIGIOUS STUDIES 232 Afro-Caribbean Spirituality [They’re talking about Voodoo, baby!]

RELIGIOUS STUDIES 225 Jesus and the Gospels [That’s cool.]

RELIGIOUS STUDIES 443 Voices in Contemporary Islam [AHHHHHHH! They’re siding with the terrorists! Support the troops! U-S-A! U-S-A!! U-S-A!!!!]

ECON 332 Russian Economic History [Marxism!]

POLITICAL SCIENCE 341 Soviet and Russian Politics [Communism!]

POLITICAL SCIENCE 200 Liberal Democracy in America [‘Nuff said.]

ANTHROPOLOGY 321 Evolution and Human Evolution [I’m not familiar with these terms.]

SOCIOLOGY 232 Sexual Harassment: Legal Questions and Normative Expectations [Feminazis running the academy!]

WOMEN’S AND GENDER STUDIES 121 Lesbian and Gay Cultures [Aha! Our arch-nemesis: the radical gay agenda! Don’t let our babies grow up to be sodomites!]

Alright, I’ve driven this into the ground, but you get the picture. Even the beloved alma mater of the communications director of the ISI offers a list of classes that could be mischaracterized as radical, frivolous, or both. If you actually look at the course descriptions, however, you’ll see that these are actually intelligent, well-designed courses that take up important issues and look at them from a number of perspectives. That’s what a humanistic, liberal arts education is all about.

Moreover, these courses are offered in addition to the more standard courses that one would expect (and find) at any reputable institute of higher learning, not in place of them. To this extent, Kenyon is representative of the contemporary American college or university (if anything, its course offerings look slightly less traditional than the average college or university).

The point is that Longwell is being more than a little disingenuous when she says that today’s college students are getting “no education.” She certainly doesn’t believe that in her own case, despite the fact that the college she went to would be an even fatter target than most for the sort of distorted, paranoia-mongering silliness that her organization traffics in.

There are certainly problems in higher education (the people who teach and work at colleges and universities would be the first to agree with this). But people like Hyman, Nesheiwat, Cribb, and Longwell aren’t interested in the real issues facing higher ed. They are preoccupied with forwarding a political agenda under the guise of disinterested commentary.

That’s certainly their right. I just wish they’d have the courage of their convictions to be a bit more honest and upfront about it. As it is, the series of “Points” we’ve seen this week are works that attempt to cover up their political motivation and rely on distortion and exaggeration to get the audience to accept their argument, an argument that is tacitly acknowledged as unable to stand on its own merits by the very people making it.

There’s a word (perhaps one that you learned about in college) that describes this kind of text: propaganda.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"The Point" Doesn't Come Clean on the ISI

In the second of a series on higher education, “The Point” relies almost solely on commentary from Kenneth Cribb, the president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. However, the background of Cribb and the ISI are not mentioned at all, with the result being that Cribb and his organization are portrayed as centrist, apolitical voices when in fact they are anything but.

Taking the form of an interview with Kenneth Cribb by “Point” correspondent Dina Nesheiwat, the commentary poses the rhetorical question “Are [students] getting a well-rounded liberal arts education?”

The implied answer to this question is no, but the commentary offers no specifics. Rather, the ISI’s position is described (via Nesheiwat’s voiceover and video of Cribb himself) in vague terms. According to “The Point,” the ISI believes colleges have become “too politicized” and that students “don’t get a well-rounded education.” Cribb goes so far as to say that, “the fact that only indoctrination is going on means that true learning is not occurring.”

Nesheiwat’s voiceover tells viewers that to help address its concerns, the ISI is “working with more than 60,000 students and faculty on more than 1100 campuses.”

However, while the text of the piece and the selected clips of Cribb give the viewer the sense that the ISI is a neutral organization devoted to depoliticizing American campuses, the ISI is actually part of a network of conservative think tanks and organizations devoted to advancing right-wing ideology among college students.

In existence for more than 50 years, the ISI is the publisher behind several conservative campus periodicals, and has also ventured into book publishing, most recently putting out Republican Senator Rick Santorum’s (PA) tome, It Takes a Family.

The ISI draws much of its funding from conservative foundations, such as the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John Olin Foundation, and the Earhart Foundation. In spite of this, the ISI’s website claims that it is non-partisan, and there are no overt references to its ties to conservative ideology (beyond vague statements that its principles include the belief in limited government, the free market, and the “Judeo-Christian” tradition).

However, the statements of Cribb himself betray the political activist goals of the ISI. In a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, Cribb said:

We must...provide resources and guidance to an elite which can take
up anew the task of enculturation. Through its journals, lectures, seminars,
books and fellowships, this is what ISI has done successfully for 36 years. The
coming of age of such elites has provided the current leadership of the
conservative revival. But we should add a major new component to our strategy:
the conservative movement is now mature enough to sustain a counteroffensive on
that last Leftist redoubt, the college campus...We are now strong enough to
establish a contemporary presence for conservatism on campus, and contest the
Left on its own turf. We plan to do this by greatly expanding the ISI field
effort, its network of campus-based programming

This is not surprising coming from Cribb, who has personal ties to the conservative movement. He held a number of positions in the Reagan administration and also has ties to the Federalist Society.

Cribb’s personal politics and the mission of ISI to “enculturate” college students into conservatism are not in and of themselves unethical, but by failing to fully reveal the background and political agenda of the group (and in fact purposefully suggesting that the ISI is interested in depoliticizing college campuses) in a piece that is presented as a news story rather than an editorial or personal commentary, Sinclair Broadcasting has committed a gross violation of journalistic ethics.

Surprise, surprise.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Nesheiwat Index: 2.16

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Vampires and Commies and Gays, Oh My!

Run for your lives! Communists have taken over the Quad! Vampires and the co-eds who love them are swarming the cafeteria!

These are the barely exaggerated bleatings of Dr. Jim Nelson Black, the authority cited by Mark Hyman in his most recent (I’ve lost count of the exact number)
attack on higher education.

Hyman’s commentary is an introduction to a series of “Points” that will examine the “shortfalls” of American colleges and universities. He approvingly quotes Dr. Black as saying, “Any nation that turns away from its founding principles and repudiates the values upon which it was founded is destined for the ash heap of history." Hyman promises that the upcoming installments of “The Point” will provide resources for those who want to reverse this trend.

Under the heading “consider the source,” it’s worth noting that Dr. Black is a darling of the religious and political right and has made a career of decrying the moral decay of higher education specifically and America generally. The fact that he keeps company with those on the right is, of course, not a valid criticism of Black. Guilt by association is Hyman’s bag, not ours. However, it is relevant to quote the gentleman’s own words.

In A Nation In Search of Its Soul, a book Black co-wrote with D. James Kennedy, we find such gems as the following:

“This is our land. This is our world. This is our heritage, and with God’s help,
we shall reclaim this nation for Jesus Christ. And no power on earth can stop

“Not all the educators in our public schools and universities
are deliberately deceitful, not all of them want todestroy this nation, but many
do. The major teachers’ unions certainly do.”

“Just a few years
ago, there were as many as ten thousand Communist professors in American
universities. The average person never saw any of them, and many would doubt the
truth of that statistic. But I can assure you it is true.”

new advance and every step taken by science confirm not evolution but the
Genesis account of creation. Yet evolution still continues to be taught as
fact.... Thus, the honorable place that had been given to human beings by God is
surreptitiously aborted, and they are dragged down into the

“Christians did not start the culture war but...we are
going to end it. That is a fact, and the Bible assures us of victory.”

Is someone who helped write such things a man whose thoughts on academic freedom, critical thinking, and intellectual inquiry we should take seriously?

And in
an appearance on Pat Robertson’s CBN network, Robertson asked Black what is being taught on today’s college campuses. Here’s his response:

“Well, basically, what they are not teaching are the things you and I learned at
college. They are not teaching freshman English nor American history, nor basic
mathematics and science. They are teaching radical courses about sexuality, and
benign courses on vampires and the undead. That is actually the name of one

This is, of course, absolute nonsense. A common trick of the trade for folks like Black is to seek out some highly specialized seminar (often offered only to graduate students and/or as a summer session course for those with a particular interest in the topic) and suggest that this is not only representative of the basic course offerings at a college, but that these have replaced standard courses in English, history, science, etc. I challenge Hyman, Dr. Black, or anyone else to produce a documented example of an institution of higher education offering courses in vampires, the undead, or “radical sexuality” instead of the typical introductory courses that all of us who actually spend time on college campuses are familiar with.

Black also claims that , “Marxism is the controlling doctrine on the university campus today. Capitalism is negative to most university professors; I would say 60 percent of them, as Marxism was 30 years ago.”

Even if we assume that Black’s statement applies only to those in the humanities (do we really think that 60% of the folks in departments of business and economics are against capitalism?), it’s preposterous. I’ve been around college faculty my whole life, and have yet to meet a communist. In fact, I’ve known more libertarians and arch conservatives in the academy than socialists. This is, unfortunately, simply a return to the red-baiting nonsense of the McCarthy era. One would have thought that the collapse of communism and the end of the cold war would have made this obsolete, but apparently not.

Hyman promises that the upcoming “Points” will explain some of the shortfalls of colleges, suggest a guide for parents to use in selecting a college for their children, and introduce us to an organization that “offers free resources to faculty and staff who thirst for genuine instruction and true intellectual growth.”

You read right—“The Point” will help us find “genuine instruction and true intellectual growth.”

I’d like to make a few predictions about the upcoming series. First, don’t be surprised if the organization Hyman cites is “Accuracy in Academia” and/or their online incarnation “Campus Report.” AIA is a right-wing group that advocates for conservative positions on college campuses. That’s fine, but if this is in fact the group to be featured in “The Point,” it is incumbent on Hyman & Co. to let their readers know that this organization is not politically neutral, but a highly political advocacy group.

Second, since originality is not “The Point’s” strong suit, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the guide that will receive the Hyman endorsement for choosing a college is Choosing the Right College published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. As we pointed out in the
September 9, 2004 edition of “The Counterpoint,” this tome is actually the work of a highly conservative group that thinks having a course on gender identity or feminist thought is a sign of a college’s moral bankruptcy.

Finally, Hyman says that the upcoming series will be presented by “correspondent Dina Nesheiwat.” I Googled Ms. Nesheiwat and came up with a couple of leads. There is a Dina Nesheiwat who is listed as a producer of “The Point.” There is also a Dina Nesheiwat who is a
23-year-old fashion model based out of Baltimore. Knowing Sinclair Broadcasting’s devotion and loyalty to serious journalists (cough, cough), I’m going to predict that our correspondent who will tell us what’s wrong with academia will in fact be the same young woman who is barely old enough to have left college herself.

That’s certainly no fault of poor Ms. Nesheiwat herself. She’s probably a mass communication major who’s happy to have a gig (beyond simply photographing well). But it’s telling that the same journalistic enterprise that fired a bonafide reporter like Jon Lieberman for criticizing the decision to air anti-Kerry propaganda as news would rely on a barely-out-of-school model to be their correspondent to anchor this series of stories/commentaries (it’s not clear what Sinclair is labeling these).

In closing, I’d like to respond to one particular comment Hyman made in his commentary. In listing the supposed flaws of American higher ed, Hyman says that, “Sometimes, instruction rests in the hands of ill-prepared adjunct professors or teaching assistants.”

First, although nearly all college students have a horror story or two about a teaching assistant who wasn’t up to scratch (often a foreign graduate student thrown into teaching a huge lecture course without knowing English well), far more have stories about TA’s and adjuncts who were among their best teachers. In my experience, adjuncts and TA’s are enthusiastic and devoted instructors who do the job because they love it (God knows, they aren’t teaching for the money). If it weren’t for the dedication of such folks, public universities would be charging vastly more for tuition in order to hire all fulltime faculty for all courses. It’s wrong for Hyman to imply that part-time instructors are somehow inherently inferior to their fulltime colleagues.

Perhaps the inclusion of adjunct professors in Hyman’s statement was a veiled slap at me, since part of my last academic position was acting as an adjunct assistant professor. I might be flattering myself that Hyman would take another stab at little old me, but just in case, he might want to know that (for whatever it’s worth) I’ve taken a new position at a private university as a tenure-track, fulltime assistant professor. As I say, the fulltime/adjunct distinction doesn’t mean much of anything in terms of the quality of instruction someone is capable of, but I figure Mark should at least have the facts.

Lastly, in terms of the types of criticisms Black and others offer about godless academics with secular agendas who don’t believe in moral or ethical principles, it might interest Hyman to know that the university I’m currently at is a Christian institution (Catholic, specifically). Not only are the caricatures of Black et. al not applicable to the place where I’m at now, but having spent time in time in both public and private colleges (and around the higher ed community my entire life), I can say that while there might be more overt references to God and spirituality at a church-based school, the overall basic devotion to a sense of serving the common good, valuing the decency and worthiness of the individual, and the devotion to knowledge and wisdom as transcendent goods are to be found in abundance at just about any college you go to.

Moreover, as much as Hyman and Black might not want to admit it, the fact of the matter is that many of us chose both an academic life and progressive politics not in spite of (or in the absence of) spiritual beliefs, but precisely because we see in the quest for knowledge and the effort to make the world better for everyone (especially those less well off than we are) the highest values of our religious, spiritual, and moral beliefs.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.56

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Point (and Counterpoint) Go to the Polls

In his recent commentary “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Mark Hyman cites a recent Harris poll that shows Americans feel good about their lives and are optimistic about their individual futures. This, Hyman argues, is in stark contrast with “the negative portrayal of America reported by the major news outlets since early 2001.” [Emphasis mine]

Our Mark isn’t exactly subtle, is he?

Yes, there’s apparently a vast left wing media elite conspiracy seeking to undermine President Bush. (Hyman is silent on why this conspiracy, if it has been going on since early 2001, Bush’s approval has been well above 50% for most of his time in office and why the “mainstream media” acted as de facto cheerleaders for the Iraq war by following Bush administration talking points to the letter . . . but I digress).

Apparently, Hyman’s thesis is that the American people have a clearer perspective on things than the national media.

If so, perhaps Hyman should surf his way over to
Polling There, he’ll find that while Americans are traditionally an optimistic people, they aren’t particularly enthused by the current occupant of the White House or what he’s doing to their country.

Currently, according to the Gallup survey’s cited at Polling Report’s website, Bush’s approval stands at 45% and falling, while 51% of respondents disapprove.

When asked about the economy specifically, only 36% of respondents said it was “excellent” or “good,” while 64% rated the economy as “only fair” or “poor.”

On the Iraq war, 54% of Americans now see it as a mistake, with only 44% think it was a good idea. If the Bush camp calls his margin of victory in November a mandate, then there would seem no superlative in the language that can accurately capture this level of dismay with the president’s foreign policy.

Not surprisingly, when asked the general question of whether the United States is on the “right track” or the “wrong track,” 60% of Americans say our nation is going wrong, while barely more than a third (37%) think things are hunky dory.

Yes, Mark, it is a testament to the resolute optimism of the American people that they can still be so cheerful about their own lives and hopeful about the future when they have such a lack of confidence in their head of state.

Perhaps this is because so many of us are consistently reminding ourselves that the reign of Bush fils is coming to an end in the not-too-distant future And given that America has survived and thrived for nearly 230 years, through Civil War, global war, economic depression, civil and social strife, it will take more than a failed businessman from Texas with a room-temperature IQ to bring down the republic.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.34

Who's Anti-American?

As regular readers know, I sometimes respond to Mark Hyman’s editorials by doing a parody of the particular commentary I’m critiquing. That’s the idea behind the following response to Hyman’s editorial entitled “Anti-Patriotism.”

One can see examples of free speech everywhere. Just about anywhere you go, you see people exercising their right to voice their own ideas, even if they aren’t the ones endorsed by the government.

Letters to the editor take issue with local school boards and zoning commissions. Anti-abortion advocates picket in front of the Supreme Court. Labor unions organize demonstrations. Letter writing and phone call campaigns tell members of Congress what the people think. Commentators on television and radio criticize those in elected office and those running for office. Some even go so far as to question the patriotism of candidates who served their country in wartime.

Even some elected officials themselves criticize the government and talk about how the “bureaucracy” is too big, even as they work to increase it.

Yes, criticizing just about anyone in power is a time-honored American tradition stretching back to the Revolution. Just about anything goes. Except one thing.

Suggest that the war in Iraq is counter productive, that it was started based on flawed and false intelligence, or that the best way to support the troops would be to bring them home (or not have sent them at all), and the criticism flies. The Bush-loving crowd gets incensed toward anyone who objects to the president’s foreign policy. “That’s not criticism,” they argue, “That’s un-American!” Isn’t it funny how only criticism of President Bush sets them off? It makes you wonder if they’re more loyal to their narrow political ideology than to American ideals of free speech and open debate.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.25

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Public vs. Private

According to Mark Hyman’s latest editorial, government should get out of “private affairs” like building a hotel and convention center. Apparently, Hyman thinks government should stick to areas it belongs, like deciding who should get to marry whom and keeping track of what library books you check out.

Hyman makes the blanket charge that local governments are involved in a “headlong rush” into private affairs. The specific evidence he offers is scant: a proposal for the city of Baltimore to build a city-owned hotel for conventions and anti-smoking ordinances in New Jersey. However, he alludes to situations such as the case recently before the Supreme Court about the right of local governments to assume ownership of private land for civic projects.

Reasonable people can certainly disagree on this issue (critics of this eminent domain policy come from both the left and the right, as do supporters). The problem is that Hyman makes a blanket statement that government shouldn’t be involved in “private affairs.”

But of course there are plenty of ways the government intervenes in private affairs in ways folks like Hyman approve of. In addition to issues of regulating marriage and carrying out surveillance on the general population, the government offers huge subsidies to any number of industries, including energy, agriculture, and manufacturing. In fact, it’s an oft-cited truism that the “reddest” states (particularly those in the West) are also those who receive the most largesse from the federal government. But if government shouldn’t be passing ordinances on smoking in private places, shouldn’t it also get out of the subsidy business? Shouldn’t the “free market” be allowed to work wonders with its invisible hand?

What Hyman means, of course, is that he feels governmental agencies should butt out of some private issues, but not others. And that’s fine. I would just point out that other people disagree on which issues are private and which are public. And moreover, it is the people who vote on and make up the government.

Hyman says that “certain activities are thought of as the responsibility of government,” while others are not. But if Hyman’s philosophy on what government should and shouldn’t do is based simply on what is accepted as conventional wisdom, he must acknowledge that conventional wisdom can change. The government shouldn’t rush headlong into certain affairs considered private? Well, why not? Shouldn’t the people get to decide what to do through government and what not to do? Obviously, this only holds true up to a point (specifically, the test of Constitutionality), but if it is the will of the people to use government to attain a particular common good, why should this be disallowed?

This is particularly true of local governments, the specific target of Hyman’s critique. After all, it’s usually conservatives who remind us that local governments are the most responsive and efficient tools when it comes to serving the public good. Isn’t it the people themselves (as opposed to Mark Hyman) who should define the role that their own local government plays in their lives?

Lurking behind Hyman’s commentary is the standard conservative worldview when it comes to representative democracy: while we pay lip service to the wonders of the democratic process and government by, of, and for the people, government is really a separate, alien entity that is unconnected to the citizenry. This is the attitude that shows itself anytime an elected official or government employee is referred to as a mere “bureaucrat.”

There are times when this attitude is a tempting one to adopt (standing in line at the DMV or wrestling with IRS forms, for example), but it’s a dangerous one for a democracy. Democracy works only if we put our faith in it—if we accept the language of the likes of Jefferson, Madison, Paine, and Lincoln as not simply dandified ways of saying democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest, but as describing the actual way in which democracy works.

This is not always easy, nor does it mean that more government is better or that the decision of the people at any given time is necessarily the right one. But it means believing that government is what we the people make of it rather than a monolithic Other that exists independently of the citizenry. This requires a leap of faith, but it’s a leap that citizens of a democracy can afford not to make if they wish to ensure their continued freedom.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.72

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Off Point with Offshoring

Thousands of high quality, high paying, high tech American jobs have gone overseas in recent years, with no end in sight. Hyman’s solution? Stick your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away.

In his
recent commentary on the offshoring of American jobs, Hyman points out the costs associated for companies moving jobs overseas and suggests that the savings really aren't that great ( a mere ten percent).

Hyman cribs his statistics and ideas from Forrester Research, offering little of his own thought. (Hyman’s passivity in this commentary is in large measure responsible for this commentary’s 0.79 Hyman Index, the lowest on record.) His only contribution is to ask whether companies will consider offshoring jobs worth it given these hidden costs.

Well, yes they will, Mark. At least there’s little to indicate that this trend is going to stop anytime soon.

And if offshoring is acknowledged to be a problem (as Hyman seems willing to do), then perhaps we should look for some actual solutions rather than simply hoping that corporations will suddenly decide to give up a practice that’s saving them ten percent per exported job.

At a time when even voicing the slightest criticism of Bush administration foreign policy is seen as tantamount to treason, is it not unreasonable to suggest that the government take active steps to secure American jobs? If a news anchor reporting on the latest roadside bomb in Iraq is seen as “seeming to support the terrorists,” what are we to make of companies that ship American jobs overseas? Isn’t this a matter of our economic national security? (In fact, one author,
Ashutosh Sheshabalaya, has suggested that offshoring is contributing to the decline of America as a superpower and the rise of India in its place.)

Hyman is silent on this matter, but others aren’t. Jeffrey E. Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management, wrote an
op-ed for Business Week on what offshoring means for the American economy. Hardly a flaming liberal, Garten’s pragmatic analysis is that while it might be impossible (and unproductive) to try to save current jobs as they exist, we need policies that will help American workers more easily make the transitions that will certainly be forced on them. Among these are affordable and portable health coverage for all workers, secure and movable pensions, increased unemployment benefits, and tax breaks for education. Moreover, Garten notes that Washington needs to press for foreign countries to hold their industries to higher labor and environmental standards. All of these are, in Garten’s words, not luxuries, but necessary components to assure the long term economic health of the American workforce.

Of course, none of these things are being done by the Bush administration or being championed by Hyman. On the contrary, Bush has been aggressively anti-worker in his presidency, and has turned a blind eye to the treatment of workers and the environment by foreign companies (and American ones, too, for that matter) in the name of free trade.

Perhaps it’s a bit naïve to think that an executive at Sinclair Broadcasting would actively seek solutions to offshoring. After all, Sinclair has pioneered the domestic equivalent of “offshoring” by taking the local out of local news. How many hometown journalists have had their jobs “offshored” to Baltimore in the name of cutting costs?

On the other hand, maybe there’s a silver lining to this. Might Sinclair offshore just one more job? “The Point with Munindra Bhatia” has a nice ring to it.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 0.79

No Gold Star for Hyman

One of Mark Hyman’s favorite whipping boys is the educational system—not just high fallutin’ academics, but the folks in the K-12 trenches as well. To hear Hyman tell it, the people who devote themselves to teaching (and do so with little in the way of compensation) are actively eroding the American character.

There are all sorts of philosophical problems with this attitude, but at the very least, it would be nice if Hyman got his facts close to straight when going after this favorite target.

In his
most recent attempt to clobber those in education, Hyman claims that public education is being “dumbed down.”

This assertion has been around forever, and there might even be a degree of truth in some aspects of the educational system. But in order to make his point, Hyman makes completely unsupported charges.

For one, Hyman says that there’s a new math curriculum in which answers that are exactly right are wrong. He claims the “rounding curriculum” tells students to round numbers before doing the actual arithmetic in order to make problems easier to solve. Students who give the actual answer are told they are wrong.

At least, that’s what Hyman would have you believe. For a number of years, I wrote and edited workbooks that helped K-12 students review academic skills, including mathematics. I had never heard of the “rounding curriculum” before, so
I Googled it. Apparently, no one else has heard of it either, except Mr. Hyman, because all I got back was Hyman’s own editorial.

Now, it’s true that students are taught to use rounding to help them solve problems more quickly when it’s appropriate to do so. Rounding is a math skill that is useful in the real world, and students need to know how to do it. And it’s certainly possible that when learning the skill of rounding, students who don’t round properly (or at all) are told that they’ve made a mistake. But the idea that students are learning to round in all math problems (and are counted as being wrong when they don’t) is simply preposterous.

Hyman also claims that cases of schools discontinuing spelling bees because they involve one winner and lots of losers suggests schools are doing more ego stroking than teaching.

But there are a couple of facts Hyman doesn’t mention. First, while there are a small handful of schools that have suggested discontinuing spelling bees,
this has been done in direct reply to the “No Child Left Behind” legislation pushed by the President. These schools, worrying that the winner/loser dynamic inherent in spelling bees is counter to the philosophy of “No Child” have suggested doing away with them for this specific reason (after all, there are plenty of ways of teaching spelling without using spelling bees).

Admittedly, this is an overly cautious way of reading the “No Child” legislation, but that brings us to the second point about spelling bees: hardly any schools have taken this anti-bee approach.
In fact, spelling bees are thriving. The broadcast of the Scripps Spelling Bee on ESPN, the movie Spellbound, as well as other pop culture texts in which spelling bees feature prominently have lead to a renaissance in the spelling bee. If we take the holding of spelling bees to be an index of the quality of the American educational system (a dubious assumption anyway), kids in the U.S. are getting a more rigorous education than at any time in recent history.

And then there’s Ebonics. Hyman implies that the fact that the school district in San Bernadino, California, is
experimenting with a curriculum that recognizes Ebonics as a dialect of English (rather than simply “wrong” English) is further evidence of the coming educational apocalypse.

I don’t know if using Ebonics in any way in a school curriculum will help. But in a school district in which black students are consistently falling behind their peers, perhaps framing language studies in a way that acknowledges the complexities of these students’ native dialect while still emphasizing the necessity of mastering standard English is not a bad idea. At the very least, it seems worth a try. Hyman suggests that the Ebonics issue is driven by an abstract idea of political correctness. The truth is that it’s simply one of many solutions being tried to help traditionally disadvantaged students succeed in school.

I don’t know enough about the issue to have a strong feeling about whether this approach is likely to succeed or not, but suggesting that students must be told that their traditional way of speaking is wrong in order for them to learn standard English (or any other subject) is actually the point of view that puts ideology ahead of what’s best for students.

But then again, that’s the hallmark of nearly all of Hyman’s comments on education: let ideology drive the debate rather than the facts, and when the facts don’t happen to fit, hack away and mangle them until they do.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.29

Business as Usual . . . Oil Business, That Is

Mark Hyman’s recent call for a more sensible energy policy is fine; we just wish he’d support elected officials that might actually create one rather than acting as the cheerleader for a president who is committed to (oil) business as usual.

Calling for a “sensible” energy policy, Hyman warns that some unholy alliance between Saudi Arabia and an increasingly oil-thirsty China could spell trouble for the United States.

The problem is that there’s already an unholy alliance between the leaders of a major world power and Saudi Arabia that’s threatening to keep the U.S. at the mercy of foreign oil: the United States itself.

It’s common knowledge that many members of the
Bush administration have strong ties to the oil industry. On top of that, Bush has significant ties to the Saudi royal family.

Not surprisingly, the energy bill Bush recently signed amounted to
a payoff to the oil industry. More importantly, the long term philosophy of the Bush team is that oil is the solution to America’s energy needs. The absurd claims that drilling ANWAR is the answer for energy independence is Exhibit A of the Bush administration’s fixation on oil.

With growing demand and limited supplies, the only “sensible” energy policy is one that invests heavily in conservation and the development of alternative (and renewable) energy resources. Will that cost money? Sure, but think of what might have already been done to wean America off the teat of foreign oil with a small fraction of the fortune already squandered in Iraq (a conflict with its roots firmly in the oil issue).

Such a policy would not only be environmentally sound, but would make the U.S. less beholden to despotic regimes for oil. The result? The U.S. could have a Mideast policy based on principles and long term benefit rather than dealing with the devil. Then, the U.S. could play a much more constructive role in undoing the Gordian knot that is the Israeli-Palestinian question. Not to mention the fact that we would not feel obliged to keep thousands of troops on the ground in Islamic countries, which has the unfortunate consequence of making some people want to fly airplanes into buildings.

And it’s not just tree-huggers that are pointing out the lameness of the Bush administration’s energy policy. The folks at
Business Week (not a bunch of lefties, they) have taken Bush to task for his pandering to big oil, as have other Republicans who correctly note that energy efficiency is very much in line with conservative (but perhaps not neo-conservative) principles.

Calling for a sensible energy policy is meaningless if Hyman doesn’t actually call on the president to push for such a policy. That would, of course, necessitate Hyman having the guts and independence of mind to do so.

And that’s The Point.

Hyman Index: 1.99

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

All's Not Fair at Sinclair

Mark Hyman is right about one thing in his most recent commentary: life is not fair. It’s certainly not fair (to pick an utterly random example) that the owners of a media conglomeration get to use the publicly owned airwaves to foist off their political opinions on their audience at the expense of using this time to better serve particular community needs.

But while life may not be fair, we should expect judges to be.

Hyman disagrees. According to him, judicial fairness is a “fairy tale.” Mocking those who have brought up the issue of fairness in connection with the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, Hyman says the only real issue should be whether Roberts “follows the Constitution” (invoking that vacuous phrase for the second time in as many days).

It’s odd that Hyman would chastise those who have brought up fairness as an appropriate criterion for a Supreme Court justice. After all, the very first person who brought up fairness in the context of Robert’s nomination was President Bush himself, who said in his remarks announcing the nomination that Roberts “has the qualities Americans expect in a judge: experience, wisdom, fairness and civility." (Of course, like all Bush appointees, the president also says that Roberts has “a good heart.")

Hyman says that there is no mention of “fairness” in the Constitution. He’s right, but only in the most technical of senses. The letters F-A-I-R might never appear together in the document, but the idea they collectively represent is all over the place. What is the equal protection clause of Article XIV if not a statement that the law should be applied fairly to citizens? Indeed, the Constitution in its entirety is a document that lays out what is fair and unfair for the government to do in relationship with the people.

Then there’s the Declaration of Independence with that pesky phrase “all men are created equal.” In fact, the entire Declaration is based on the premise that the British crown was treating American colonists unfairly.

This should serve as a pretty good indicator that fairness was a quality held in high esteem by the Founders. Hyman suggests, however, that “fairness” and “justice” can be at odds. No doubt King George III felt similarly.

Hyman reels off a number of trite examples of how life isn’t fair, but he misses the point. We expect more of the law and those who enforce and interpret it than the caprice of nature and chance. True, justice and fairness are not synonyms, but the American system of justice (as opposed to, say, that practiced by the Taliban) is predicated on a presumption that all people share the same rights under the law. In other words, justice is based on an underlying assumption that people should be treated fairly and equally.

For purposes of illustration, let’s look at a couple of examples of the difference between “fairness” as it applies to life and to the law.

Let’s say that you work a desk job that requires you to pound out text on a computer keyboard for eight hours a day and, because of the ergonomical nightmare that is your workstation, you end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s life being unfair.

But you would expect the law to treat you fairly. For example, you’d probably assume that the Americans With Disabilities Act would cover you, particularly since your disability came from performing your job. That’s the case of the law mandating that people be treated fairly.

But not according to Judge Roberts, who ruled in exactly this sort of case that the ADA did not cover an employee who developed carpal tunnel while on the job.

Or how about this: your junior-high-aged daughter is catching the subway home from school and has some French fries in her backpack. While waiting for the train, she eats one (1) French fry. The local gendarmes, enforcing a “no-eating-in-the-subway” ordinance, handcuff your little girl, take her downtown in the back of a police van, fingerprint her, and leave her in shackles until you come to pick her up. The fact that your daughter was caught eating a single French fry when thousands of people probably eat full meals in the train station without being seen by the authorities is a case of life being unfair.

But there’s also the issue of fairness as it applies to the enforcement of the law. In a similar situation, an adult caught munching on a French fry would simply be issued a citation. Certainly the courts should step in and correct this overzealous action against your daughter, telling authorities that they have no right to treat your girl like a murderer when an adult would only get a ticket, right?

Not according to Judge Roberts. He ruled that because the teenage girl wasn’t an adult, the authorities were completely within their rights to shackle her for felonious French fry eating.

My guess is that most Americans would agree that fair application of the law is an important quality for a judge to have. “Fairness” bothers Hyman, however, because it raises the specter of certain groups of people he doesn’t care for demanding the same rights that he enjoys (an attitude he gives away in his use of the phrase “protected groups”).

I’m tempted to draw an analogy between this attitude and those of public figures of the past who said the law didn’t need to treat African Americans or women fairly because life itself wasn’t fair (after all, they were born with darker skin and/or with two X chromosomes) and it wasn’t the business of the law to undo these perceived inequities.

I’m tempted to draw this analogy between Hyman and the racist and misogynist thinking his train of thought parallels, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be fair.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.56

Preemptive Framing

One of the more common genres of “The Point” is the preemptive frame. This is when Hyman characterizes likely upcoming events in a way that encourages viewers to understand these events in a particular way when they do occur.

A case in point is Hyman’s recent anticipation of the confirmation process of John Roberts. Pointing out that political groups have been preparing for this eventuality for some time, Hyman suggests that while we might be lucky enough to have a “civil and fair” process, we might be subjected to “political wilding.”

Tabling for now the racially charged connotations of the term “wilding” in his metaphor, the purpose of Hyman’s commentary is to frame any potential protest or challenge of Judge Roberts’ nomination as unthinking, inappropriate, and destructive. Hyman couches this in seemingly neutral rhetoric (noting that both liberal and conservative groups have been prepping for Bush to name a replacement for Sandra Day O’Connor), but given that most of the possible challenges to Roberts will come from the left, it’s not hard to see that this is an attempt to characterize any Democrat who criticizes the nominee in any way of being “uncivil” and, therefore, someone who should be ignored.

Hyman also camouflages his political intent by saying that the political views of a judge are immaterial; what matters is whether he or she “follows the Constitution.”

Of course, “following the Constitution” is an intentionally vague phrase. For Hyman, it means whether or not the judge in question reads the Constitution in a way that will lead to particular rulings on any number of issues that Hyman feels are important . . . political issues. How the Constitution is interpreted is an inherently political issue. One might agree that any judge’s position on a specific issue is immaterial (e.g., whether he or she is pro life or pro choice), but how and why that judge feels Roe v. Wade is or isn’t good law is very much material.

In short, Hyman takes a complex question that should be posed of any nominee (“How do you apply the Constitution’s broad strokes to specific cases that come before you today?”) with a meaningless binary query (“Do you follow the Constitution or not?”).

And while Hyman suggests that such a question is separate from political issues, we know from the way he throws around epithets such as “activist judges” that Hyman himself bases his own opinion of whether or not a judge “follows the Constitution” on the basis of his or her positions on particular political issues.

Perhaps one day Hyman will offer a coherent and well-thought out explanation of what he means by the phrase “follows the Constitution.” But we might be in for many more commentaries in which this empty phrase is used to camouflage his political agenda in the sheep’s clothing of objective-sounding rhetoric.

(Two can play at the preemptive framing game!)

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.11

Hyman's Jennings Fixation

The passing of Peter Jennings over the weekend brought back to mind some of Mark Hyman’s most objectionable traits, particularly his willingness to slander decent people if it serves his political aims.

I needed reminding of this given that there were three editions of “The Point” in a row that weren’t horrifyingly objectionable.
In his commentary on business relationships with China, Hyman takes to task a federal commission on China trade, suggesting that they put too much stress on greasing the wheels of commerce at the expense of national security. Some of us might like to hear something about human rights issues brought up in this context, but we’ll take what we can get.

In his
discussion of news coverage about missing kids, Hyman nearly sounds like a progressive, pointing out that the individuals who receive the attention tend to be white, attractive, and female. Had Natalee Holloway not been a cute blonde, would Fox and MSNBC have covered the search for her so breathlessly? Obviously not. Hyman accurately notes that thousands upon thousands of kids go missing every year, yet the media picks and chooses which of these counts as a national story, and does so often on the basis of the most superficial (and irrelevant) details. One might point out that this is a case of Hyman having a keen grasp of the obvious, but this is still more than we often see from Mark, so let’s give him his props.

Hyman suggests that the time and energy that goes into various charity “-thons” (e.g., walkathons, dance-a-thons, etc.) could be better channeled into more directly useful efforts to support causes. Again, there’s plenty to take exception to here. First of all, the commentary is exceedingly self-serving—Hyman’s goes on at length about how much he’s contributed to various causes. It also sets up a false opposition: one need not choose between participating in a walkathon to support breast cancer research and volunteering at a hospice. And the “-thons” that Hyman belittles are often good ways to get people who haven’t considered volunteering interested and involved. Yet, the basic point—that one shouldn’t overlook the most direct way of offering help to a favorite cause—is fair enough.

As I struggled to assimilate this unprecedented streak of near-coherence from Mr. Hyman, however, news came of Jennings’ passing.

For reasons that have never been clear to me, Peter Jennings has been a favorite whipping boy for Hyman. When ranting about the supposed leftist media, Hyman often invoked Jennings’ name as an example that supported his point. Most infamously, Hyman insinuated that
Jennings “seemed to support the terrorists” over Americans in a commentary during the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Perhaps Hyman’s particular antipathy for Jennings was fueled by his anti-intellectualism. After all, Jennings’ on-air persona was distinctly more cerebral than that of either Brokaw or (God knows) Rather.

But the truth of the matter is that Jennings was the least educated of the big three, having not even completed high school. Learning his craft from on-the-job experience, Jennings was anything but a member of the “intellectual elite” that Hyman scoffs at.

Could it have been that Hyman took a particular dislike to Jennings because the ABC anchor hailed from north of the border? Doubtful. Hating Jennings for being Canadian would be dumb enough on its own, but it would be particularly dopey given the fact that
Jennings became a U.S. citizen late in life, motivated to do so while researching a book on the American political culture. When asked what he particularly loved about America, Jennings said that it was the only nation in history founded on an idea.

I don’t know why Hyman had it in for Peter Jennings. But think for a moment about the fact that Jennings made a decision to become an American, not because there was any advantage to be gained, but simply because he wanted to. Think about the reason Jennings gave for admiring America—the fact that ours is the only nation founded upon an intellectual idea about equality and freedom, as opposed to geographic, ethnic, or historical divisions.

Now, put that next to Hyman’s pompous pontificating and jingoistic babble. Which man do you think more eloquently defines what America means?

I won’t hold my breath for Hyman to offer a kind word about Jennings in the wake of his death, let alone an apology for his attempts at character assassination. All the event likely means for Hyman is that he’ll need to find a new punching bag. But that’s fine. In the end, Jennings’ career stands on its own merits, and no words from the likes of Hyman can add or detract from that.

And perhaps this brings us to the reason Hyman so detested Jennings; Jennings might not have been another Murrow or Cronkite, but he was a real newsman who had something Hyman can only wish he had: class.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index:

“China Commission”: 0.68
“Missing Kids”: 1.16
“Fundraisers”: 0.96

Monday, August 08, 2005

Guilt by Association? It's Fine by Hyman.

Hyman attacks ACLU. Not exactly “Man Bites Dog,” is it? About the only interesting thing about Hyman’s most recent attack on the American Civil Liberties Union is the fact that his argument against the organization is one that might put him at odds with a number of his conservative brethren.

Calling the ACLU the “American Criminal Liberties Union,” Hyman complains that the ACLU is asking the FBI to turn over records of groups it had under surveillance leading up to and during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 2004.

According to Hyman, some of the groups protesting at the conventions “promised disruption and violence.” He doesn’t say which groups. Hyman also says that some groups that took part in protests in Miami, Washington, and Seattle in recent years were also planning to protest at the national conventions in 2004. Again, he doesn’t bother to identify specific groups.

Rather, Hyman says that it’s fine and dandy that the FBI spied on any and all groups that were planning protests at the 2004 conventions, and that the ACLU should be thanking the authorities for keeping files on Americans participating in political speech (apparently Hyman’s only a fan of unfettered political speech when it involves writing large checks to politicians, not when it involves ordinary Americans exercising their freedom of speech).

That’s a bit odd for a conservative to say. Time was when conservatives were as troubled by the idea of government spying on people because of their political beliefs. Remember that in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, many conservatives were among the loudest critics of the expansion of federal law enforcement powers. It’s difficult to believe that any sincere conservative would think it’s fine and dandy for the federal government to spy on groups engaging in political protest only on the basis that some other groups that might also be engaging in protest at the same event might include members who might have engaged in violence at some previous time.

But as we know, in Hyman, we’re not dealing with an individual with an intellectually coherent ideology. Given a chance to demagogue against the ACLU, Hyman jumps at the opportunity and, in the process, ignores basic precepts of conservative philosophy, to say nothing of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.47

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Who's Really Destroying the Military?

Mark Hyman loves to talk about the “Angry Left.” Most recently, he’s used the term when warning viewers about people who want to have the military draft reinstated so that the armed services will collapse.

You might be asking yourself why the draft would bring about the undoing of the military. I don’t know. Hyman doesn’t seem to know either. At least, he doesn’t offer an explanation. Granting that an army built from the draft won World War II, Hyman cryptically says that was a “different era under different circumstances.” According to Hyman, the draft today would bring in “the very people the military doesn't want: petty criminals, drug users, the lazy, conduct cases.”

Why would a draft today bring in these kinds of people? Hyman doesn’t say. One would think that even a rudimentary screening process would keep kleptomaniacs and crackheads out of uniform, but apparently Hyman doesn’t think the armed services are capable of weeding out such people.

The bigger question, however, is one that I’ve wondered about in the past: exactly who is “the Angry Left”?

For Hyman, it’s a group of people who (among other things) have a “little plan” to destroy the military by introducing the draft (and, according to Hyman’s bizarre reasoning, swelling the ranks of America’s armed forces with criminals). On a practical level, the idea of anyone taking this route to undermine the military is too dopey to be taken seriously for a second, but tabling that issue for a moment, who are the dastardly individuals who make up Hyman’s “Angry Left” and are bent on eviscerating the armed services?

Would it be the 16 Democratic Senators and 48 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who served in the military?

Would it be Paul Hackett, the first Iraq War vet to run for Congress? The Bush-bashing Democrat is (as of this writing) in a statistical dead heat with an entrenched Republican in a highly conservative district of Ohio.

Would it be the tens of thousands of registered Democrats who are fighting (and too often dying) in Iraq right now? What about the parents, family, and friends of these registered Democrats?

Of course not. Nor does it include any of us in the reality-based world. Which is why Hyman gives no examples of the people he claims are trying to destroy the military by reinstating the draft. “Angry Left” is nothing but an empty phrase into which Hyman (and, he hopes, his viewers) puts anyone he doesn’t like. Like the bogeyman, a child’s distillation of all the things that go bump in the night that he’s too scared to face, the “Angry Left” is Hyman’s projection of those people and ideas whom he fears and feels inadequate to cope with directly.

Now, there are certainly people who have suggested reinstituting the draft, and some of them are on the political left. But the primary reason for this is the fact that it is the children of poor and working class families that are serving and dying in wildly disproportionate numbers in the Iraq War. Some have suggested that if what is at stake in Iraq is of such monumental importance, perhaps children from across the socio-economic spectrum should serve.

Heck, we don’t even need a draft for that. How about Bush’s daughters volunteering to serve? This would be more than an empty gesture; according to a Rolling Stone article about the prospects of the draft being reinstated, military recruiters say that Jena Bush volunteering to serve in Iraq would do more to boost recruitment than a trebling of their advertising budget.

Perhaps if everyone’s children were equally at risk, decisions to go to war would be made with more forethought than we saw in this case. Hyman, however, mocks this rationale as a smokescreen that hides the Left’s “real” agenda: destroying the military. But I can’t help but think that in mocking this rationale, Hyman is also mocking the very idea that sacrifice should be shared by all.

And as far as destroying the military goes, the current administration is doing an excellent job of that itself. By conducting a voluntary war for no coherent reason and with no exit strategy, Bush has killed off 1800 members of the military, and sent ten times that many to the hospital (many with permanent disabilities). By sending troops in too small a number without the proper equipment, he’s ensured a long, drawn-out, and miserable existence for soldiers in the field.

Add to this the farming out of support services for the troops to companies like Halliburton, which have done atrocious jobs of caring for our servicemen and women, and it’s little wonder that the Army is falling short of recruiting goals. In fact, according to the Rolling Stone article, recruiters are now admitting 25% more high school dropouts into the service in order to even come close to meeting their quotas.

African Americans, once hugely over represented in the armed forces, now make up numbers that are roughly equal to their percentage in the general population. Might it be that those people to whom the armed forces have traditionally turned to fight their battles are finally getting sick of being taken for granted, particularly when those who are doing the most pontificating on the wisdom of the war also seem to be those with the least at stake?

Yes, even if we granted Hyman’s bizarre idea that wacky liberals are out to undermine the military by reinstating the draft, the Angry Left still comes in a distant second to the Angry Right when it comes to destroying our armed forces, as well as the lives of the individual young men and women who comprise them.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.17

With Friends Like These . . .

According to Mark Hyman, some of the best critics are bloggers on the web.

We appreciate the shout-out Mark, but we still must take issue with your commentary on the McCain-Feingold legislation (and not just because of the tangent you go on when you kiss up to Matt Drudge).

Hyman addresses an interesting subject in this editorial, but does it in an uninteresting way. The topic of how campaign finance reform might affect online sources of information (including blogs by individuals) is one that deserves thoughtful analysis. Unfortunately, Hyman gives us his all-too-typical fear mongering.

Hyman claims that the “onerous” McCain-Feingold legislation (looks like someone’s been using his thesaurus!) would put a “gag” on internet speech. Moreover, Hyman claims that this wouldn’t simply be an unfortunate by-product of sloppy legislation, but that this censorship is exactly what the legislation is intended to do.

There are certainly reasons to be concerned about possible consequences for political commentary on the web, but the idea that people behind this legislation are out to censor individual bloggers is plain dopey. Senator Feingold himself has laid out his position on the matter, making clear he feels individual free speech on the internet is a positive thing. The problem is when major political players use websites as a ruse to get around campaign finance regulations.

Does that make McCain-Feingold a great thing? Not necessarily, but the idea that the legislation is an overt effort to squelch individual political speech on the web, or that it could not be enforced with adequate safeguards and limitations to protect individual bloggers, is silly.

But it’s not hard to understand why Hyman & Co. would be against McCain-Feingold, and in particular why Hyman would single out the Center for Responsive Politics for name-calling. The CRP (whom Hyman calls an “advocate of censorship” for backing McCain-Feingold) is the organization behind, the best source on the web to find out who gives money to what political candidates.

When I first started figuring out who and what Sinclair Broadcasting was, was one of my first stop. Most of you probably know what I found out there: Sinclair executives have given huge amounts of money to their Republican friends, and virtually nothing to Democrats.

Meaningful campaign finance legislation would make it more difficult for Sinclair to line the pockets of favorite politicians, not to mention make it harder to pass off propaganda as “news.”

I hate to be cynical, but do you think it might be possible that Hyman is more concerned about Sinclair’s continued ability to fund right-wing pals than with my ability to offer political commentary on my blog?

I’m just wondering . . .

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 3.00

Cost of the War in Iraq
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