Witch’s Will For A February Morning
My Pick of the Litter Today
Republicans winning sequester fight despite themselves
On Tuesday, President Obama held an almost comical sky-is-falling press event in the White House warning that houses will burn, terrorists will invade, planes will fall out of the sky, and schools will collapse if the federal government cuts spending by a mere 2 percent. The proper response would have been to mock Obama as crazy 21st century Mayan profit of doom, but instead Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, played right into Obama’s hands writing in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, that the sequester “threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.”
The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York outlined why this is such a terrible message: “Why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs? … Why would Boehner adopt the Democratic description of the cuts as “deep” when they would touch such a relatively small part of federal spending? The effect of Boehner’s argument is to make Obama seem reasonable in comparison.”
Fortunately for Boehner and the Republicans, Senate Democrats have begun to realize that there is zero chance Republicans will agree to tax hikes to undo the sequester. Even better, they seem to be operating under the fantasy that Republicans will cave on tax hikes if the Democrats threaten to shut down the government when the continuing resolution expires March 27th. The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent reports:
Democrats no longer see the sequester as sufficient to force Republicans to cave on new revenues; rather, they increasingly see the looming government shutdown deadline of March 27th as the real means for them to force a GOP surrender. The idea is that the sequester isn’t as dramatic a deadline as the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling deadlines were. … “The sequester doesn’t have that immediate shock value,” a senior Senate Democratic aide tells me. “It’s not the kind of thing where people wake up on March 1st and realize it happened. It doesn’t have the sort of acute impact that the fiscal cliff or debt ceiling did. We need a harder backstop to really force this fight.”
That “harder backstop” is the threat of a government shutdown, which gets the attention of the public — and with the GOP brand in trouble, Dems hope, it will be hard for Republicans to cling to their no-revenues-at-any-costs stance. “March is the month where negotiations will really ramp up,” the aide says.
If Sargent’s sources are right, then you should not expect to see the Senate actually vote on the sequester replacement bill they introduced last Thursday. Why bother forcing Red State Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2014 to vote for tax hikes if it’s just for show? Instead, expect the sequester fight to fade into the background as the White House finally releases its 2013 budget and both sides transition to the continuing resolution fight at the end of next month.
Let’s Go Sequestering!
If you’ve never lived there, Washington, D.C., seems like a pretty conservative place. Perhaps not politically. No — definitely not politically. Washington, D.C, is a place where conservatives go to die and common sense goes into a coma.
But it’s a place that doesn’t like new things. It adores tradition, pomp, ceremony, and old-fashioned, stuffy things like dinner parties and cotillions. In recent years, this traditional kind of cultural conservatism has run smack into modern American celebrity hysteria. It says something about the influence of Washington traditionalism that you don’t see politicians dying their hair purple or wearing a lot of bling, but you do see famous performers toning down their act some.
So the reaction to the coming sequester, where 10% of all federal spending is going to be lopped off the top on March 1 except for a few sacred cows like Medicare and Social Security, is not unexpected. They hate it. Not just the politicians, but all the lobbyists, lawyers, think tankers, consultants, image makers, image destroyers, do-gooders, and anti-do-gooders in town can’t stand the darn thing.
About the only people in town who are embracing the meat cleaver wholeheartedly are those back-bench, Tea Party butchers in the Republican Party who think it’s long past due to do something about trillion-dollar deficits besides soak the rich. If it means channeling Lizzie Borden and taking an ax to the whole shebang, so be it.
Other Republicans, at least on the surface, are expressing a sad resignation that the sequester is going to become a reality. Politically, this is necessary because once these cuts begin to take effect, the American people are going to get a taste of what it will be like to live without some of the things they’ve been putting on their children’s credit card these last few decades. It is not going to be easy and painless getting government spending under control and, eventually, balancing the budget. If it were easy, politicians would have done it already. The pols are not in the business of deliberately inflicting pain on their constituents, and once these cuts start being felt, there will likely be some anger.
But most of the howls of protest will come from entrenched interest groups whose ox is being gored. It is a given that a constituency for even the silliest, the most unnecessary government program will fight like hell to maintain — or increase — spending levels for their fiefdoms. We will hear a lot about the impact of these cuts on widows, old folks, the poor, the sick, and, most especially, women and children over the next few weeks and how the cuts could easily be restored if we just taxed the rich a little more and made them pay their “fair share.”
Sadly, some of the rants will be based on truth. Every discretionary federal program will be affected. Don’t like long wait times to get through the gropers’ gauntlet at the airport? Cutbacks at TSA will likely result in a big increase in the time it takes to get through security. Reductions in air traffic control spending could mean your plane being stuck on the tarmac for a while, or circling high above the airport during peak flying hours.
The problems with sequestration are legion, but it boils down to the fact that sequestered monies are coming out of the smallest parts of the budget. With big-ticket items like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and Medicaid all being exempt, what’s left amounts to about one fifth of the total budget, minus defense spending. Taken individually, air traffic control, food safety, export assistance, and the cost of running the White House and Congress — all these and most other discretionary programs have budgets that amount to a few hundredths of a percent of the total federal budget. With 50% of the cuts coming from defense, that still leaves around $45 billion that has to be shaved from everything else, whether the program is a bloated waste of taxpayer money or vital to the health and safety of American citizens.
Indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts can only be described as irresponsible governance. While no one except the president and Democrats are arguing that the amount of the sequester isn’t necessary — many are saying it’s too small –allowing the sequester to take effect is a tacit admission of abject failure of leadership. Collectively, the entire Congress should be fired for allowing this state of affairs to reach a point of no return.
There has been some talk in recent days of a Republican plan to give department heads and agency managers more flexibility in what they can cut. Indeed, there is always the suspicion that some cuts are made not so much because they are necessary, but because, as National Journal‘s  Matthew Cooper points out, managers use the “Firemen First” principle of budget cutting — making sure cuts are made to popular or vital programs, deliberately ratcheting up the pain as a PR gambit to get Congress to restore the cuts.
That isn’t likely to work this time. And, as Cooper says, perhaps it is just as well:
At a time when Americans are convinced that foreign aid is a significant part or the budget—the median answer in one survey in 2010 was 25 percent of the budget—it’ll be a good object lesson for people to see that government means planes landing safely, meat being inspected, Yellowstone being kept open. Yes, most of what the government does is write checks and defend us, “an insurance company with an Army,” so the saying goes. But it does a lot more.
This civics lesson may be beneficial for several reasons. Americans talk a good “small government” game, but when faced with losing a pet program or a subsidy, they are just as likely to scream bloody murder. If we are ever to live within our means, we must collectively decide what it is we want government to do, and then be willing to cough up the tax money to get it done. No more allowing politicians to bestow goodies on us that we never asked for, and may not even need. A revolution in attitude toward government is needed, and the sequester has the potential to start a national conversation about the role of government in society and the limits that must be placed on federal power if we are to save ourselves from a debt Armageddon.
This is not to demonize government. It certainly doesn’t mean we should love it either. You don’t have to love government to want to make it work efficiently, prudently — conservatively. Nor should one have to hate the government in order to restrain it.
Recognizing that the federal government is out of control, that it is taking on functions for which it was never intended to perform and cannot competently manage does not make one an anti-government zealot. That is a political attack, and not a rational argument. Wanting to place limits on where government can intrude in our lives does not mean that you hate the poor, or the children, or anyone else. If the sequester does nothing else, it may reveal in stark relief government functions that truly are necessary and those that might not be.
And wouldn’t that be a revelation to both liberals and conservatives.
Bloomberg’s Carlson Predicts GOP ‘Squeals’ When Obama Makes Sequester Cuts ‘Hurt’
How thoughtful of this biased bimbo to be concerned about “wealthy” Republicans who can’t afford their own private jets. As opposed to the Dems in the same fix? Hmmm? And she doesn’t seem to think it’s at all wrong for the President of the United States to “hurt” American citizens in order to punish the Republican Party. I find that as repulsive as I find her.
Video: Rand Paul Returns $600,000 to US Treasury
What’s Up With the Democrats?
Emanuel’s Approval Rating In The Tank
The Washington Post has a blog post entitled “President Rahm? Maybe.” It cites Emanuel’s fundraising ability, knowledge of the political process, discipline and media contacts as reasons he could succeed his fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama.
Emanuel allies insist that he has done much good for the city but it’s clear from the headlines that the dominant story of his time in office so far is the rising murder rate. The Chicago homicide rate in January was its highest in more than a decade and the Windy City has become a national talking point — and not in a good way — when it comes to violence. There’s been little recent credible polling on Emanuel but he has to have taken a hit from all the negative publicity surrounding the murders. And, even if he hasn’t, it’s hard to imagine Emanuel’s potential 2016 opponents wouldn’t dredge up some of those violence stats if he did make a bid.
Just 2 percent of Chicagoans surveyed said they strongly approve of the mayor’s job performance, with 12 percent somewhat approving and 5 percent leaning that way. At the opposite end, 13 percent strongly disapprove, 9 percent somewhat disapprove and 13 percent lean toward disapproval.
The Post speculates that Emanuel might not want to give up the “lifetime job” of mayor to run for president. But numbers like this are sure to interest other strong candidates who passed on the 2011 race because of Emanuel’s money and White House connections. The next mayoral election is almost exactly two years away. Maybe the paper should write a follow up article entitled “Mayor Rahm? Maybe not.”
What Up With Republicans?
Republicans Shouldn’t Be Too Reasonable
Democrats dominated American politics from the 1930s to the 1970s. The Franklin Roosevelt coalition of northern liberals and southern bigots eventually collapsed as the public realized the welfare state they had constructed created as many problems as it solved. But until Ronald Reagan came along, the biggest problem for the GOP was not being associated with the legacy of Herbert Hoover. Instead, it was the instinct of so many in the party to try and recast Republicanism in the image of the victorious Democrats.
For far too long, mainstream Republicanism became a function of politicians who saw their task as being to offer the public the Democratic platform minus 10 or 15 percent to show their fiscal prudence. They didn’t so much provide an opposition as an echo that enabled liberals to believe the country’s course was irretrievably set to the left even if there were momentary electoral hiccups such as the election of war hero Dwight Eisenhower on the GOP ticket. These reasonable Republicans were both polite and housebroken in a way that some current conservatives are not. But they were also a party of losers who stood for little that was worth fighting for.
It is that era when liberal and moderate Republicans ruled the roost in the party and routinely cut deals with the seemingly permanent Democratic majorities in the House and Senate that the GOP sympathizers of the “No Labels” crowd seem to invoke when they call for a return to the good old days of bipartisanship. And it was precisely to oppose this spirit of timorous accommodation that William F. Buckley helped found the modern conservative moment. Many so-called moderates now invoke Buckley when they call for weeding out conservatives in order to win more elections. They are right to the extent that the party ought to avoid nominating fools and outliers for winnable Senate seats like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin. But the idea that winning, even if it means diluting or even discarding conservative principles, is the sole point of conservative politics is the fallacy.
A Republican Party that ceases to be a place where tough conservatives are willing to muss up the hair of their liberal antagonists is not going to win many elections. The “No Labels” bunch may think they know more about the mainstream than the likes of Ted Cruz, but a party that loses its base is no more likely to win than one that can’t appeal to the center. Reasonableness that functions as a curb against principled opposition is a trap that Republicans would do well to avoid.
Republicans became a majority party not by being better liberals than the Democrats but by tapping into the support of most Americans for the values and ideas they stood for. If they are to regain that status, it won’t, as Wehner and Gerson rightly note, be by living in the past or failing to adapt. But it also won’t happen if they forget to be conservatives.
SOMETHING TO BRING A SMILE …
EPA Doc Dump: Heavily Redacted Emails of Former Chief Released
The Environmental Protection Agency remains under scrutiny, as EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson denied to Fox News last Thursday that former EPA chief Lisa Jackson used a New Jersey government e-mail account during her tenure at the agency.
“That (New Jersey e-mail) account was closed when she left her position” in New Jersey, Johnson told Fox News.
However, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson told FoxNews.com on Thursday that, upon further inspection, it appears Jackson’s New Jersey email account only turned up because that was the user name for the New York Times account she had set up.
The denial follows allegations from Washington D.C. attorney Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who initially found the alternative e-mail address of the former EPA administrator and claims Jackson used the account to avoid record requests.
More importantly, the e-mails relating to Jackson’s “Richard Windsor” account that CEI received recently, pursuant to a court order, are heavily redacted. According to CEI, nearly 95 percent “of the e-mail correspondence from the administrator and more than 80 percent of the email sent to ‘Richard Windsor’ – excluding news stories available to the public – were redacted.”
The CEI Blog Global Warming.org posted the redacted EPA emails on their site Friday:
First, it was 1,200 emails of the Washington Post daily headlines, Google alerts of everything written about the Environmental Protection Agency on a given day and a compendium of blogs that mentioned the EPA. Then, having had their fun, EPA officials got serious in the second tranche of emails they released to CEI late Friday, pursuant to a court ruling that ordered the agency to comply with our FOIA requests. This time, we got actual emails… that revealed a lot… about the fine art of redaction.
In a statement to Breitbart News, Horner wrote:
The biggest sore-thumb in this third-in-a-series of related Friday night document dumps–two of them before 3 day weekends–is the promiscuous and abusive withholding of high-level EPA reactions to media coverage as “deliberative process.”
That requires that withheld records truly be “antecedent to the adoption of an agency policy” (Jordan v. DoJ, D.C. Circuit 1978). Carping about the media being insufficiently in the poor dears’ pocket, as certain of the emails acknowledge is indeed that case, isn’t that.
Illustrating how EPA waived any entitlement to a presumption that their withholdings are legitimate, consider how they use that same “deliberative” exemption to delete an aide’s commentary when passing along a slavish email to Jackson from aspiring Senator Ashley Judd (D-TN/KY), when the latter apparently feared that LJack had heard The Judd criticized her. Mmm. Which Agency policy would that be antecedent to? p. 362 of Part C.
Stephan Hayes: Scott’s Decision On Medicaid Expansion Was “Cowardly”
Krauthammer: Not “Dishonorable Or Cowardly” For GOP Governors To Embrace Obamacare
Both Krauthammer and Hayes make good arguments. In this case I agree with Hayes. Scott did all the things Hayes said he did and now he caves? I think it was exactly what Hayes called it, an act of political cowardice. I don’t believe he is acting on what he thinks best for his state, he’s acting on what he thinks best for the political future of Rick Scott. And I don’t think it will work. Unless the Dems run some real loser against him, Rick Scott will be, IMO, a one term governor.
Rand Paul on Sequester Fearmongering: ‘Balderdash’ – ‘President Is Making Stuff Up’
SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-KENTUCKY):
I would say balderdash. It’s untrue, unfair, dishonest, disingenuous. The president is making stuff up. He puts law enforcement, he puts firemen and policemen, who 98 percent of them are being paid for with your local taxes, and says you’re going to lose your local policeman because of this. It’s not true. The sequester is a slowdown in the rate of growth of government. It’s the least we can do. Our country is drowning in a sea of debt, borrowing $50,000 a second. We have to slow down spending. And for the president to use this histrionics is really I think beneath the office of the presidency.
I think he covers the hypbolic bullshit emerging from the POS in the White House quite well. Bravo Senator Paul!
On CNN, Cause of Chicago Violence Is – You Guessed It – The GOP
Chicago hasn’t had a Republican mayor in over 80 years. Democrats have controlled the Illinois governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature for more than a decade, with Democrats ruling the Illinois House for 28 of the last 30 years. No matter, Chicago violence is the fault of Republicans. We learned that this morning on CNN Newsroom when anchor Carol Costello asked her “Talk Back” guests about Retired Lt. General Russel Honore’s suggestion to use National Guard troops to curb murders in Chicago. Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman astutely pinpointed the reason for Chicago’s carnage:
And let’s be very clear about what’s happening in Washington today and why it’s undermining the city of Chicago, because there’s a mindset now in our government, in Washington, from the Republican members of Congress, that sequestration is an acceptable way of doing business, that we can in fact engage in these massive irresponsible cuts that no one thinks is a logical approach to budgeting.
And that undermines law enforcement in our cities; it undermines so many education opportunities for our younger people and it does in fact — in fact create an impoverished class of our society that leads to abuse, leads to violence and leads to more Chicagos.
That’s right. It’s the GOP’s “mindset” that’s to blame. Yet sequestration can’t be responsible for the 506 Chicago murders last year, when condemning Republicans for his own proposal was still a gleam in Barack Obama’s eye.
Anchor Costello allowed Zimmerman’s absurd charge to go by with nothing but a weak “I don’t think you can leave Democrats out of that one.” How’s that for setting the record straight for those low information voters CNN caters to?
No Republican need lend a hand in undermining the city of Chicago. Its uninterrupted Democrat control is doing just that.
Congratulations CNN, you are now as bad as MSNBC. That’s how low you’ve sunk.
S ecurity Report links China’s Army to Cyber Spying
Internet security experts believe “almost all” powerful institutions in the nation’s capital have been penetrated by Chinese “cyber-spies,” despite persistent denials by China about such activity.
The Chinese military has intruded into at least 141 organizations over seven years, stealing terabytes of data from each, according to a report released Tuesday by Mandiant, a U.S cybersecurity company.
Mandiant concludes in its analysis that that the group of cyber-espionage operators, which it labels APT 1 (APT for “advanced persistent threat”), “is likely government-sponsored and one of the most persistent of China’s cyber threat actors.”
The listing of major Washington institutions allegedly hacked in recent years includes government agencies, congressional offices, think tanks, news organizations, law firms, contractors, human rights groups, and foreign embassies.
No company is safe.
“There are only two categories of companies affected by the trade-secret theft,” said U.S Attorney General Eric Holder, “those that know they have been compromised and those that don’t know it yet.”
“A single trade secret could be worth millions or even billions of dollars,” Holder said. “Trade secret theft can require companies to lay off employees, close factories, to lose sales and profits, to experience a decline in competitive position and advantage or even to go out of business”
Gas spending and prices by state
link to map showing prices by state: http://money.cnn.com/news/storysupplement/economy/gas_prices_by_state/?iid=HP_LN
Chicago Tribune: Gerrymandering Made Jesse Jr. Do It
In case you missed it, the Chicago Tribune editorialized on Thursday about Jesse Jackson Jr.’s plea bargain deal with the feds. The Tribune’s editors, with a magnificent sense of the moral, argued that former Congressman Jackson was tempted into his crimes (fraud and theft related to campaign funds) because of the scourge of gerrymandering, the ancient American art of drawing congressional and state legislative districts every decade to the advantage of the party controlling a state.
Why Jesse Jr. didn’t use the editors’ shrewd argument in trying to fend off prosecution is only known to Jesse Jr. and his wife-in-crime, Sandi (who’s headed to the hoosegow for filing false tax returns; could eHarmony have better matched this couple?). Or maybe Jesse Jr. did float the gerrymandering argument as part of his mea culpa, only to have the feds guffaw.
The Tribune’s editors had this to say:
To the humiliation that Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, imposed on Illinois, you can add a political indictment: This state’s egregious gerrymandering aided and abetted the Jacksons’ long crime spree. If Jackson had been running for office in a competitive district — rather than in one of the nation’s most overwhelmingly Democratic — the couple arguably would have had to spend campaign funds on needs more urgent than Build-a-Bear toy animals, what the feds delicately call Costco “undergarments” and the goofy mounted elk heads.
No doubt there were egregious districts drawn by those rascally Democrats in Springfield. But the editors’ argument amounts to something along the lines of “If Tiffany’s didn’t leave those diamond rings on the counter unguarded, Jesse Jr. wouldn’t have stolen them.” Perhaps Jesse Jr., like his old man, simply lacks the character and moral compass to avoid sticky fingers syndrome.
Crooks aren’t necessarily shrewd, but they can be - until they’re caught. If Jesse Jr. wanted to siphon off money from his campaigns, he would have found ways to do it, even in a competitive congressional district. Or he could have shaken down contributors and laundered money in a hundred and one other ways. Venality finds a means.
Of course, the editors’ frustration with congressional and state legislative gerrymandering by Democrats is shared by those of who aren’t Illinoisans (or blind partisans). Governor Pat Quinn and a Democrat legislature are doing fine jobs fleecing taxpayers, spending like they’re Barack Obama clones, sky-rocketing debt and deficits, and driving good citizens out (per the Illinois Policy Institute). The Land of Lincoln deserves better.
Shameful, Democrat doings. But Jesse Jr. is a crook, regardless the temptations. Or as Henry Ward Beecher long ago proclaimed: “Temptations are enemies outside the castle seeking entrance. If there be no false retainer within who holds treacherous parley, there can scarcely be even an offer.”
How Well Does ‘Rate My Professors’ Rate?
“I fell asleep often.” This is an anonymous comment by a student on the website “Rate My Professors,”  where instructors are ranked as “Good Quality,” “Average Quality,” and “Poor Quality,” with anecdotal assessments included. The comment by the sleepy student is not an admission of ill-preparedness, a confession of intellectual laziness, or even simply an acknowledgement of too many nights at the pub. It is a self-evident accusation: the professor who can’t keep this student awake is a dull fellow, and other students should beware.
As anyone knows who has checked this public site, Rate My Professors is full of such accusations against professors — for being boring, overly demanding, or ungenerous about marks or deadlines. “He means well but his grading is very hard on students,” reads one such complaint, with the implication produced by the ambiguous wording that low marks are an unjust hardship. Professors are frequently castigated for sins of “over-intellectualizing,” “droning on about versification,” and — a frequent lament — having “unreasonable expectations.” One instructor is “not very personable” while another “does not give students the opportunity to excel.” Another prof “makes such meticulous effort to choose her vocabulary that much of her lecture loses all meaning.” The same commentator warns, in explanation of a “Poor Quality” ranking, “Be prepared to listen HARD and think.”
Such accusations reveal little about the professor in question; no one ever satisfactorily distinguishes a boring professor from a boredom-inclined student — which is not to suggest that boring professors do not exist, simply that Rate My Professors cannot recognize them. What the comments reveal are students’ assumptions about what they are owed by their teachers and what constitutes a good classroom experience. Most pointedly, they show the extent to which higher education in North America has become a consumer product like any other, catering to client satisfaction and majority appeal. Reading through the comments, one is disheartened not only because so many are crude and illiterate but also because they indicate how deeply most students have imbibed the canard that university is about being entertained and helped to feel good about oneself.
No one, likely, will be surprised to discover that students are critical of instructors who have a high standard and mark them down when they fail to reach it: “A sweet person who seems to really care about her students,” runs a typical comment attached to an “Average Quality” ranking, “but don’t expect an A, even if your [sic] sure you aced the test.” Statistical researcher Valen Johnson has demonstrated in Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education  (2003) that student responses to their university experience have been corrupted by an entitlement mentality about grades. Because students tend to excuse poor performance by pointing to external factors, they often blame their teachers when marks are lower than expected — when, as one student wrote on the site, they are “completely blindsided by a bad grade.” The problem is acute in the grade-inflating Humanities disciplines, where an element of subjectivity is always present and where one instructor’s decision to give higher marks than the material deserves — whether from pedagogical principle or to grease the wheels of a happy classroom — creates pressure on other instructors to do the same, and leads to negative evaluations of those who will not. As even a cursory perusal of Rate My Professors uncovers, “Very hard marker” almost always equates to a “Poor Quality” evaluation. This fact alone, as Johnson concludes and as many thoughtful observers can attest, makes teacher evaluations, which are widely used as a ranking method in the modern university, next to meaningless.
In such a context, it might seem that the most valuable commendations are those — and they are certainly the most heartening — that warn against the professor’s difficulty or dryness while still recommending him or her. “Sure, he’s tough, even mean. But he is also brilliant.” “You’ll find no great excitement in her lecture room, but you will have the chance to hear tremendously intelligent and thoughtful ideas on life and literature that will stay with you outside the classroom.” For a student to find a professor’s teaching valuable despite the instructor’s refusal to provide esteem-boosting marks or a jazzy presentation speaks to some other quality that has touched the student. But what is the quality, exactly? Can it be distinguished from personal charm, winsomeness, superficial articulateness, or an engrossing manner? Can the vast majority of students tell if an instructor actually knows his subject or has wisdom to impart?
Not very likely. Given that a significant percentage of students, according to a recent National Post article  based on a study by a Memorial University (Newfoundland) professor, cannot locate the continent of Africa on a world map or even identify the Atlantic Ocean, how can they possibly locate their professors on the scale of intelligence and knowledge? Too frequently, the most enthusiastic declarations about an instructor’s “amazing lectures” and “brilliance” also dwell on the sexy looks and other forms of personal appeal that make him or her so easy to listen to. “Never worked so hard for an A. Loved the material, and his lectures were stimulating and hilarious. He’s hot too, great outfits.”
This, really, is what Rate My Professors most consistently highlights, that physical attractiveness, a magnetic style, and the ability to relate good stories, deliver witty one-liners, or toss off nuggets of seeming profundity (with today’s short attention spans, they can only be nuggets, usually liberally interspersed with jokes, chitchat, and sentimental fluff) have come to define “good teaching” — and make it nearly indistinguishable from a diverting performance — for the majority of students. In the main, such teaching does not meet the standard that David Solway defined in Education Lost  (1989), where he analyzed education as a performative co-encounter in which the teacher “performs” the “initiating presence” and the student “impersonates his ideal or projected self” in a complex drama taking full account of the “prolonged” and often “agonistic” process of learning.
Mass-appeal education, in contrast, is a slick and unexacting affair relying heavily on simple enjoyment. The words one encounters over and over in the “Good Quality” evaluations pinpoint the feel-good factor: “positive,” “fascinating,” “approachable,” “nice,” “encouraging,” “hilarious,” “sweet,” “supportive,” “quick witted,” and “helpful.” A beloved instructor is one who “respects his class and will bend over backwards to help you out!” (This same instructor “brought candies to first and last class.”) Good lectures, we come to see, involve the delivery of memorable bons mots (and bonbons) and riveting stories that have little to do with the painstaking acquisition — through sustained reading, practice, and memory work — of knowledge and skill. And one cannot help but notice that much of the space on Rate My Professors is taken up with arguments over whether an instructor is legitimately “hot” or not (students can assign “chili peppers” to those they deem sexy).
None of this is, of course, startling. Students and teachers are, after all, human beings, and human beings respond to one another on a variety of levels, with verbal manner, wit, and physical attractiveness mattering to all of us. None of it would be cause for more than a rueful chuckle if the consequences were negligible, as they surely deserve to be. If administrators and teachers, and maybe even students themselves, recognized the frivolity of Rate My Professors, it would be merely an amusing and sometimes chagrining cultural phenomenon.
But Rate My Professors is far from a marginal entity. It has been around for over a decade and seems here to stay. And although Rate My Professors itself is not an institutionally sanctioned tool of evaluation — no one’s career will be made or broken by what students write on it — it functions as an all-too-accurate index of the current state of university education, and for this reason is far from irrelevant. A perfect storm of circumstances have combined to give Rate My Professors an undeserved but undeniable cultural power.
Some of these myriad reasons include increased competition amongst universities for enrollment. Poorly-prepared but emotionally coddled students accustomed to leniency, praise, and high marks. A government policy dedicated to “credentialing” increasing numbers of young people regardless of their aptitude or commitment. A post-secondary administration that is ever-more cravenly in thrall to university buzz words such as inclusivity, diversity, respect, relevance, and personal development. University leaders who promote a pedagogy of student-centeredness. A vulnerable cadre of part-time instructors who make up an ever-larger proportion of university faculty.
Beyond those explanations, there is a general culture in which respect for elite knowledge and intellectual rigor has never been lower. It symbolizes the falsely egalitarian spirit and consumer-oriented ethos of the modern university, in which a “rich student life,” “unparalleled university experience,” and “sense of belonging” are promised by the highest levels of the administration  on down, and it reinforces a corrupt system in which decisions about academic programs and budgetary allocations are made based on course popularity.
Worth a Read:
Mark Levin argues against Krauthammer’s statement
I like and respect Krauthammer a good share of the time. On this I think he got it completely wrong!
How Media’s ‘Team Hagel’ Did Obama’s Dirty Work
Obama’s sequester deal-changer
Proving that even when the GOP caves and makes a deal with Obama they can’t trust him to keep it. His word, like the rest of him, is no damn good!
Horsemeat scandal hits U.S.
President Obama lifted the ban on horse slaughter in 2011.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” ~ G.K. Chesterton