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Friday, November 13, 2009

Why “Race to the Top” might be better called “Race to the Middle”

The Obama administration has been touting a program it’s calling “Race to the Top,” which will make available $4.35 billion to states that put forward education reform plans that meet certain federal guidelines. Those guidelines were released just a couple of days ago. There’s a lot of good stuff in there about raising standards, improving early childhood education, shrinking performance gaps among different groups of students, etc.


But sadly, there’s also a lot that would seem to doom this plan, like its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, to create an educational culture of mediocrity, where just good enough is...well, good enough.


The notion of raising standards sounds good. Who could be against raising educational standards? Don’t we all want our kids to do better? Of course we do. The problem is that, when a single standard is applied to all students, it doesn’t necessarily qualify as an improvement across the board - especially when the standard is quantified using a single, uniform test.


By definition, we want most students to meet the standard, so it will be set at a point that most students can reasonably be expected to achieve, given appropriate instruction and resources.


But also by definition, some students will have the ability to surpass the standard -- in some cases, by quite a lot -- and some students may even be able to do that with little or no instruction at all. These are the high-ability students that exist in some number in every school everywhere. For them, the standard is set below the level they can reasonably be expected to achieve.


According to my reading of the executive summary of the Race to the Top program -- and if I’ve missed something, I’d be most grateful if someone would point it out -- the program’s guidelines do not take these kids into consideration. Quite the opposite -- the guidelines specifically call for uniform standards across the board, and when most kids meet those, the job is considered to have been well done. What’s more, states are encouraged to peg teacher compensation, promotion, and retention to these standards. In other words, educators will have material incentives to make sure that the lower-performing students are raised to meet the standard, and no incentives (other than their consciences, of course) to make sure that the higher-achieving students show similar improvement, even if that means reaching a standard above the norm.


And this is why Race to the Top looks suspiciously like a race to the middle.


We need a more nuanced approach that actively elicits the best from every single student no matter what their ability level. Linking rewards to absolute scores achieved on standardized tests is a recipe for the mediocritization of public education.


And it’s not just the high-ability students who end up suffering. When test performance becomes the ultimate arbiter of success, it’s inevitable that the classroom experience is narrowed, with things like critical thinking and creativity shunted aside in favor of goal-oriented instruction that aims to wring the best possible score out of each kid during that critical week of standardized testing. At its worst, it becomes an exercise in joyless, spirit-crushing repetition more likely to turn kids off to school than to inspire them to excel.


There’s something even more disturbing to me than all that, though. Race to the Top, like No Child Left Behind before it, treats education like a business plan, in which we set quantifiable targets in order to increase productivity and optimize output. But that’s not what education should be, and it’s not the way to achieve true greatness as a society. Education is its own end, because the intellectual development of every individual enhances society as a whole in ways that go far beyond the bottom line. It informs our values, enhances our creativity, broadens our vision, and brings us together through shared interests and common goals. What concerns me most is that we seem to have given up on all that, settling instead for a much narrower vision and a more anemic ideal.


And that’s something we shouldn’t be inflicting on any of our children.


NOTE: Del Siegle, president of the National Association for Gifted Children, wrote an open letter to education secretary Arne Duncan with some recommendations on how to address the needs of high-ability students in Race to the Top. Unless I missed something, the kind of explicit acknowledgement of the needs of gifted kids called for in this letter didn't make it into the final guidelines.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Serena Williams pulls a Bernie Madoff

I've been feeling really conflicted about the whole Serena Williams affair. On the one hand, she really screwed up in her 2009 US Open semifinal match against Kim Clijsters. What she said to that lineswoman and how she said it were truly wrong (and I'm among those who wonder if it was roid rage, sadly). But on the other hand, the boatload of hypocrisy going around is sickening. Hearing Mary Carillo, whose bias against the Williams sister is well known, going on and on about it makes me want to spit. And then there's McEnroe, who is hardly one to talk. If it weren't so racist sexist sad, it would be hilarious that people seem to be splitting hairs about how Serena's outburst was so much worse than anything McEnroe did. McEnroe made an annoying spectacle of himself every damn time he walked out on a court, demonstrating rudeness not just to officials and fans, but to his opponents by holding up play for extended periods with his tantrums. Serena may have been out of line with the linewoman, but at least she understood that the most important person on that court was her opponent, and she did exactly what she should have done with Clijsters. She didn't have an extended tantrum and steal Clijsters' limelight; she congratulated her graciously and left.

But this morning I realized that the underlying thing making me really uncomfortable is that Serena Williams just pulled a Bernie Madoff. Do I even need to explain what I mean? People who commit high-profile transgressions that give ammo to the haters, "proof" of their worst suspicions. Jews are money-grubbing thieves. Blacks are violent and uncivilized. My knee jerk reaction is that we have to be extra cautious not to throw fuel on those fires.

And then as soon as I think those thoughts, I'm racked with guilt, because I know that they just plays into the notion that the hated minority has to be twice as good to get half as much credit. Growing up, I was explicitly taught that, as a Jew, I must be scrupulous in everything I do because the goyim will always be looking to find fault, and I must never give them cause to justify their anti-semitism. I suspect many people of color were taught similarly. But there comes a time when you recognize that this is just a way of internalizing the racism of the culture -- taking it on yourself to accommodate the prejudice rather than attacking the prejudice directly.

From a piece in the Guardian some years back titled "Tennis Is Racist, It's Time We Did Something About It:

As race courses through the veins of tennis, people pretend it doesn't exist. Instead the Williams sisters, together with their father, are subjected to a steady stream of criticism, denigration, accusation and innuendo: their physique is somehow an unfair advantage (those of Afro descent are built differently), they are arrogant and aloof (they are proud and self-confident), they are not popular with the other players (they come from a very different culture and, let us not forget, there is plenty of evidence of racism among their colleagues: comments made by Martina Hingis spring to mind, not to mention the behaviour of Lleyton Hewitt towards a black linesman in last year's US Open).

And Richard, a man of some genius, is painted as a ridiculous and absurd figure, match-fixer, svengali and the rest of it. Most racism - especially middle-class racism - is neither crude nor explicit but subtle and nuanced, masquerading as fair comment about personal qualities rather than the prejudice it is.


Middle-class racism masquerades as fair comment -- that's exactly right. That's what's so frustrating in these situations -- especially when, as in the case of Serena's outburst during the US Open semifinal, there really was something wrong with her behavior. Pointing out the racism in the responses to her behavior just brings charges that you're a race apologist, because what's worse, Mary Carillo calling Serena's press conference an "Oscar-worthy performance," or Serena threatening to shove a tennis ball down the lineswoman's fucking throat?

The fact is, Mary Carillo is worse, because she's speaking from her position of authority in an affluent white sport, and she never fails to reinforce how unwelcoming she is to people like the Williams sisters, whereas Serena popped off in the heat of the moment.

But sadly, that's a damn hard case to make to those who simply aren't disposed to listen.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Should the government get into the news business?

I can't believe I'm even asking that question, but the grotesque over-coverage of the Michael Jackson* story has me really wondering.

The 24 hour news channels completely lost their minds about this story. It's as if there has been no other news for the past week -- you literally couldn't find out what's going on in the world by turning on the news channels for 55 minutes out of every 60. And the network news is so bare-bones to begin with, when you start doing five-minute lead Michael Jackson stories, you're left with, what, 15 minutes for everything else -- and everything else always includes human interest and other uninformative filler.**

And the thing is, I really believe that news matters -- that an informed public is necessary for a democracy to work.

The commercial news channels are run like any other business trying to sell something -- they put out the cheapest product they can that they feel people will consume, and it's far, far cheaper to send a few crews to LA for a week than to send a lot of crews to a lot of different places for that same week. The eyeball-catching power of a major celebrity death means big returns for little investment.

So one obvious question is, who's at fault, the consumer who buys the crap or the producer who makes it? When I thought about it that way I realized you could compare it to other businesses, like, say, mortgage lending. People should definitely take responsibility for their own finances, do their homework, and not borrow money they aren't likely to be able to repay. But if experience shows that many consumers can't be trusted to do that, and lenders certainly can't be trusted to protect people from themselves, I believe that for the good of the economy as a whole, the government should build in regulations that prevent people from making terrible mistakes.

But not every industry is the same. Take food. People should be responsible for eating healthy foods. The health problems caused by bad eating habits end up putting a strain on the medical system and a financial burden on society as a whole, not to mention that it seems immoral not to save lives. But on the other hand, it seems  like an unreasonable infringement on personal freedom to pass laws that forbid people from eating too many fast-food meals in a week, or to ration cake, or whatever. So in that case, the government mandates that certain information be provided to make it easier for people to make good choices, and, in the case of kids in taxpayer-funded situations (aka public school), they actually regulate the food itself. This all seems reasonable to me, too, though when I really think about it, it's hard to come up with a logical defense for treating money and food differently. I need to think about that some more.

But anyway, news. I believe that it's detrimental to a democratic society to have an uninformed population, but I don't think it's practical to issue required reading lists and subject the public to pop quizzes. But there does need to be a way to make it as easy as possible for the public to access information about politics, world events, etc. Just as the free market can't be relied upon to make healthy eating or responsible borrowing easier, experience indicates that it can't be relied upon to provide the information the public needs to remain well informed. 

So -- does the government step in? My first reaction is that this is a terrible idea -- that government-provided or regulated news is the antithesis of the free flow of information in a free society. But then there's the BBC -- it's damn hard to argue with the BBC. I mean, they're not perfect, but I listen to the World Service many mornings, and I learn more in a week about what's going on around the world than I would in a year of CNN. Of course, that's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, because 24 hour news channels have so much time to fill that, when you tune in at a random hour, you're not necessarily getting the big picture -- and then of course there's also the fact that cable news has completely blurred the line between opinion and news, so that subjectivity colors actual reporting. One hour of World Service is designed to give you everything the editors consider to be most important at that moment in time, with an effort to present a balanced, objective story. Imperfect, certainly, but much better than the alternative. (I believe that the journalistic values of balance and objectivity, while unattainable ideals, are much better than the alternative -- the abandonment of all attempts to be objective.)

I guess I really do blame consumers for gobbling up stupid news hour after hour, but I also believe that we've reached the point where the public is completely uneducated about WHY they need to know other stuff. It's hard to recognize that you're not making informed decisions when you don't even know what information is out there. The commercial news media are failing to inform, and I don't believe the internet has provided a viable alternative because of problems like a lack of news-gathering resources, the unreliable credibility of sources, and lack of general standards.

It still really rubs me the wrong way to say that the government should tell news media what kinds of information they have to provide, let alone that the government should get into the news business itself. I may be a leftie who hates all the right-wing "government is evil" rhetoric, but I'm not crazy enough to believe the government is good at telling the truth, either. OTOH, why is news not like food or money? It's something we all need, and if we do it wrong, democratic society falls apart. The government can provide funding with a set of general outlines for the news product to be produced, but also with strict rules about not ever interfering in the reporting itself. The funding would free news gathering agencies from the commercial decisions that drive them to do 24/7 Michael Jackson coverage, but the regulatory limits would prevent the authorities from controlling the specific information produced. Wouldn't it?

Tough questions.

* Full disclosure: I think MJ was creepy and his music is well-produced, catchy pop. I think Thriller is a brilliant video, I cringe every time someone compares MJ to John Lennon, I wouldn't have left my kids alone with the guy for all the money in LA, and I think it's sad the guy never got the help he probably needed. I think it's cool that white kids liked his music, but I also think it's bizarre to laud him for breaking down racial barriers without taking note of the bizarre cosmetic surgery and the terrible message that sent.

** I'm a great defender of newspapers, but I'm not even bothering to bring them into this because a) I don't believe you can get enough people to read them, and b) they're so hard up for cash that they've all gone down the crapper anyway.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I'm seeing a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about what's going on in Iran -- in many ways, with good reason. And also, there's a lot of excitement about the use of the Internet to disseminate information -- also, with good reason. But I'm also disturbed that I'm not hearing enough cautionary voices -- the voice of experience that says, "Just because you have protesters in the streets facing down powerful government forces does not mean there's a simple right/wrong, good/evil dichotomy going on. And just because you saw it on Twitter doesn't mean it's true."

My familiarity with Iranian politics is minimal, so on that side, I'll link to and quote a NY Times piece. But I'd also like to share some things I learned from having been eyewitness to a similar situation.

First, from the NY Times: An Insider Turned Agitator Is the Face of Iran's Opposition.

His followers have begun calling him “the Gandhi of Iran.” His image is carried aloft in the vast opposition demonstrations that have shaken Iran in recent days, his name chanted in rhyming verses that invoke Islam’s most sacred martyrs.

Mir Hussein Moussavi has become the public face of the movement, the man the protesters consider the true winner of the disputed presidential election.

 

But he is in some ways an accidental leader, a moderate figure anointed at the last minute to represent a popular upwelling against the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is far from being a liberal in the Western sense, and it is not yet clear how far he will be willing to go in defending the broad democratic hopes he has come to embody.

 

Mr. Moussavi, 67, is an insider who has moved toward opposition, and his motives for doing so remain murky. He was close to the founder of Iran’s Islamic Revolution but is at odds with the current supreme leader. Some prominent figures have rallied to his cause, including a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. So it is not clear how much this battle reflects a popular resistance to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line policies, and how much is about a struggle for power.

 


The rest of the article is well worth reading. I think we in the West need to be aware that our politicians and media tend to portray in a positive light protests and revolutions against governments we don't like, manipulating public opinion to suit our own agenda. So, for example, when it's anti-communist protesters, it's portrayed as a home-grown democratic movement, and its leader is glorified. Remember Boris Yeltsin? He didn't exactly turn out to be all he was cracked up to be. Yes, in Iran it's about a stolen election. But when Mugabe stole the Zimbabwe election, Western interests were unaffected and coverage was minimal.

But the thing that has me most concerned now is the way the informal, grassroots dissemination of information via social networking sites and other internet-based services is being uncritically lauded. Yes, it's good that the images are getting out, but I'm convinced that Americans (and possibly Europeans, I don't know) have little idea how quickly rumors and misinformation spread in that kind of environment, and how very dangerous that can be.

In 1991, I was in Bucharest, Romania when a horde of coal miners from the the Jiu Valley descended on Bucharest and rioted in the streets for nearly a week. (This was about a year and a half after the Communist Ceausescu regime fell.) I covered the story for the NY Times. The whole situation was extremely confusing. Why were the miners here? Whose bidding were they doing? The previous year, they had come to Bucharest at the call of the government of President Ion Iliescu to put down student protests, and the miners beat students brutally in the streets. This time, they were protesting against the government, presumably because promises made after the last time had gone unfulfilled.

So there I was, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on. I could report what I saw -- the tear gas, the bullets, the fires, the tanks, the angry miners -- but I was trying to understand the who and the why as well. I asked everyone -- the miners, the Romanian reporters, government officials, friends, random people in the street. And let me tell you, what an education THAT was.

In a country where everyone assumes that the government and the media do nothing but lie, and where paranoia is ratcheted up to an excruciatingly high level, people become accustomed to holding opinions and beliefs with absolutely no evidence or hard information to base them on -- because evidence and hard information are impossible to come by. Age-old prejudices are as good as facts, and disseminating lies that you KNOW are lies in order to further your own agenda is 100 percent okay, whether you're an electrician or a journalist.

So, when I asked people why the miners were rioting, I was told with absolute certainty by people from all walks of life (including Romanian journalists and officials) that the miners were either being controlled by the international conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons, or that they were protesting AGAINST the international conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons. Clearly, Jews and Freemasons were involved, because the Prime Minster of Romania, Petre Roman, was one-quarter Jewish and a Freemason. Depending on who you asked, the miners were either still doing the government's bidding as they had done the previous year (in which case they're working for the Jews and Freemasons), or they had turned against their former masters. 

I was also constantly hearing complete misinformation about what was actually going on in the street. At various times, people told me with certainty that the parliament building had burned down (there had been a small fire); that dozens of people had been shot dead (two people had); that Petre Roman had fled the country (he hadn't, though he did eventually give in to pressure and step down); etc. I can only imagine how the echo chamber of the internet would have magnified that kind of misinformation.

At other times during my stay in Romania, I heard all kinds of crazy notions communicated as facts by people who you would think would have some idea about what constitutes reliable evidence. My favorite lie that I heard over and over again, including from physicians and orphanage directors, was that Romanian children were being adopted by Americans in order to harvest their organs (the proof: many adopted children were gypsies, and why else would anyone want them?).

This article, written by an American journalist who was a Fulbright Scholar in Romania at the same time I was there, rings true -- I can totally relate to being an American utterly befuddled by the Romanian mindset:

But behind the scenes—above politics and any notions of civil society—floats the fine hand of fate....Romania remains a deeply superstitious country, a place where intrigue and conspiracy are accepted as fact by everyone from unlettered peasants to elected officials.

My point is that I don't think most people in the West fully appreciate how incredibly fucked up things become in a society where people are unaccustomed to access to reliable information. We think Americans will believe anything, and that the American news media is a total joke. Yeah, American news media is on the decline, and it needs a lot of improvement, but it is still of enormous value, and our efforts should not be to replace professional journalism with any ol' blogger who wants to have his say. There's a role for that blogger, but it's NOT as a primary information source.

The media is guilty of presenting a skewed view of the world, but there are still lots of reporters on the ground working to verify information and to avoid reporting rumor as fact, and we need more of that, not less. Likewise, we need editors who hold their reporters' feet to the fire in terms of getting the story and getting it right. As consumers, we should demand more of that, not abandon traditional journalism altogether in favor of grainy videos from personal cell phones.

Going back to Iran -- I admire the people who want to choose their government and who are standing up for their rights. But just because I admire them doesn't mean I'm going to believe everything they say or assume their leader is the salvation of the Middle East. And I sure as hell am not going to rely on Twitter for my news.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wherein I gush about the Star Trek Movie

Not only did I love the Star Trek movie -- it turns out to be the perfect Mother's Day film! Who knew it was all about mothers? Well, sorta.

I absolutely loved the way they captured the characters but turned them up to 11. It was them -- the people who have been so central to my imagination for something like three and a half decades -- just more intense and complex. But the added intensity fits with the way I've been imagining them all along. You know what I mean -- the way we fill in the blanks by inferring so much from whatever characterization we see onscreen. It all somehow worked and didn't hit any sour notes for me. 

WARNING: Spoilers beyond

Kirk was true to the original, right down to the womanizing and the arrogance, but with enough real courage and intelligence to back it up so that you admire him. That was especially important to me, because Kirk has always been the person I wanted to be, and it always bothers me a little when he's ridiculed. (I am a bit miffed on behalf of Kirk's mother, who obviously put up with a lot of shit from that kid, but who never got to appear in the movie again after the opening sequence.)

Spock worked just as well, though I have to say that I kept thinking that the makeup made him look a bit like Ben Stiller. (It didn't help that they showed the
Night at the Museum sequel trailer before the movie.) And I'm getting behind Spock/Uhura 100 percent, even if I did cringe just a little at the scene in the lift when she asked him to tell her what he needs. Just a wee bit over the top, that, but never mind. Hot is hot.

Uhura essentially got
Enterprise character Hoshi's job description. It was always really odd that "communications officer" was a more complex, skilled job on a series set a century before TOS, but of course they were fixing the obvious lameness of Uhura's gig. Now Uhura is what she should have been from the start.

Great love for McCoy, whose pessimism balances the trio so well. Probably my major complaint about the movie is that there wasn't enough of him in it.

And, oh, Leonard Nimoy. Love. Just...love. (And wasn't it brilliant the way they aged his ears to match his face?)

As for the story, it kept rolling along just fine, and yeah, I don't really get some of it: I'm not at all sure what red matter is supposed to be, or why all those cadets ran off to serve on starships (didn't they already have crews?), or why creating a singularity within our solar system isn't a really big problem, or whether both timelines still exist and how old Spock's disappearance from the other one might affect it, or...you get the idea. But it's all good.

As for what is and what isn't canon -- I guess I'm the typical female fan who's far more concerned about continuity of character than about continuity of plot. If the characters feel wrong, no amount of accuracy in detail will salvage the thing for me; if the characters feel right, I'm content to shrug off other problems. In this case, I'm perfectly happy to roll with the alternate-reality premise, because it feels right. 

And besides, they did an amazing job of incorporating all these little details that echoed the original, even if they are somewhat different: "I have been and always shall be your friend;" Sulu and his fencing; the hairstyles and miniskirts; Scotty yelling about giving it everything she's got; Pike in a wheelchair; the Kobayashi Maru; etc etc.

Also, it was wonderful sharing this movie with my sons, who loved it and now want to see more Star Trek. Sadly, my daughter wasn't interested in the least. Oh, well. IDIC. (Though I'm still hoping that her inner sci fi geek will emerge eventually...)

Oh, and we went out for a delicious Malaysian dinner after. The perfect Mother's Day.

I plan to see the movie again, by myself, no distractions. I'm going to enjoy that a lot.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On Madoff, the Jews, and Me

I found an essay by Joseph Epstein in Newsweek, called "Uncle Bernie and the Jews," about which I feel deeply ambivalent. It talks about the fact that Madoff bilked Jews more than any other group, and he speculates about what effect this might (or should) have on Jewish consciousness.

On the one hand, it describes very well my own visceral reaction to the rise of an ultrawealthy class of Jews emulating the WASP lifestyle they think their goyish counterparts lead -- a lifestyle of pettiness and intellectual flab, a loss of something in our culture that was valuable and great. The author brings as an illiustration the game of golf; that passage speaks loudly to me because it describes perfectly the yawning chasm between the values I was raised with by my middle-class Jewish academic parents, and a branch of my extended family that -- well, that plays a lot of golf:

There is something deeply trivial about golf that is unseemly for Jews, who have traditionally been accustomed to taking themselves seriously. Whacking away at a little ball, hoping, at the end of four hours' effort, to arrive at the finish a stroke or two fewer than the previous time one wasted a morning at this game—no, no, no, I'm sorry, but this is all wrong for Jews. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers didn't undergo pogroms and the struggle to evade conscription in the tsar's army to come to America for their descendants to put on peach-colored pants, spiked Nike shoes and chemises Lacoste to appear on the first tee promptly at 8 a.m. A Jew should be studying, arguing, thinking, working, making money, contemplating why God has put him through so many trials. A phrase like "dogleg to the left" should never pass his lips.

And yet I find the conclusions of this essay deeply disturbing. The author seems to feel that Madoff will have done Jews a favor if they come away from the experience wiser about the pitfalls of trying to be like others around us -- that we'll realize the danger of losing our edge by fitting in too much. This is just what I was taught growing up: "The antisemites are everywhere -- the Holocaust can happen here, too. Don't ever get too comfortable." As I got older, I came to realize that I didn't like the logic of that. Just because there are those who do not accept me does not mean that I have to give up my demands for acceptance and withdraw myself to a safe distance. And just because I refuse to self-segregate and withdraw myself from society does not mean that I have to give up that which has made my people unique and has driven their achievements through the centuries.

...does it? I do believe that assimilation of any minority group into a dominant culture tends to result in the minority group replacing many of its own best attributes with most of the less-than-wonderful aspects of the larger culture -- homogeneity in the worst sense of the word, with implications of blandness and mediocrity. But is this just because I can't see the good things about the dominant culture precisely because it is dominant, the status quo, and its positive attributes are therefore not set off in contrast to anything else? Are Jews (or any other minority group) really trading down, or does it just seem that way? And is the trade really necessary at all? Can we really be the salad bowl and not the melting pot? America as salad bowl is a lovely conceit; the trouble is, I've always had a very hard time believing in it.

NB: I just googled the author and learned that he is also the author of a rather infamous homophobic essay published in 1970 titled "Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity." So...hmmmm...not too surprising that I find this piece disturbing, I guess.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Would somebody please smack Rick Santelli upside the head?

Some points about Rick Santelli's rant against bailing out people who are behind on mortgage payments:

1. WARNING: IRONY AHEAD. This loudmouth pundit delivers his opinion to the cheers of a bunch of Chicago traders, and the media says he's tapped into the anger of average Americans. Do people really not realize that traders are not average Joes? All those crazy mortgage loans were made to people who couldn't afford them precisely because there was an insatiable market for mortgage-backed securities -- securities those same traders (or others like them) bought and sold and made fortunes from. It was the market's appetite for those securities that pushed banks into making ever-stupider loans, and no matter how much you try to blame the borrowers, the fact is that it's the LENDERS who are supposed to be the experts. Does anyone actually believe that banks don't expect to see a huge increase in loan defaults when they lower the bar on credit availability? Does anyone believe that banks actually expect borrowers to know their limits? Of course not! That's why banks vet you before loaning you the money -- unless of course the bank is being pressured to provide more mortgages to be bundled up into packages that can be traded as securities. But average Americans watch a bunch of traders -- TRADERS -- cheering the notion that it's all the borrowers' fault -- people with "an extra bathroom," as Santelli says -- and they think, "Yeah, those guys are speaking for me!" NO THEY'RE NOT!

It's like a doctor who prescribes a drug known to cause heart attacks in overweight, male, diabetic smokers with histories of heart problems to a patient who is an overweight, male, diabetic, smoker with a history of heart problems. When the guy has a heart attack, the doctor says, "Not my problem! He should have read the package insert!" And then the AMA blames the patient.

2. And to all those people saying Rick Santelli speaks for you: Why do you believe that poor people are lazy and stupid? "I've been paying my bills -- why should my tax money bail out people who haven't?" Because obviously all those people stopped paying their bills because they're too lazy to work or because they spent all their money on expensive sneakers and crack cocaine, while YOU, Mr. Smartass American, so wisely scrimped and saved. And we'll remind you of that when you lose your job and your health coverage, have a medical problem that runs up a pile of debt, and your home is foreclosed on.