Friday, September 11, 2009

New Axegrinder on the Block

The forces of ignorance and reaction fighting against building a new high school in Fayetteville, and funding public education generally, are pimping a new blog called Mid-Riffs that says it is a broad view from mid-America. However, it seems to take a rather narrow view of a single topic, that being opposition to the millage for the new high school. Book-banner Laurie Taylor Masterson and the Teabaggers are swapping arguments freely between blog posts and using them for copy in their online flyer against the millage. I would guess the blog is getting far more readers than Masterson's anemic Washington Co. TEA Party (6 members) and Tom Sawyer's Reboot Fayetteville High School (11 members) groups on Facebook.

Today, Laurie Taylor Masterson was recommending the latest Mid-Riffs blog post by Josh McGee to her 1,150 facebook friends. "Friends, I encourage you to read this blog post the read the other 'Castles in the sand' and get the word out before the citizens of Fayetteville are dooped!" Yes, you know, a public school education that might teach their children how to spell duped and not get flim-flammed by the raging hysteria of a ranting Teabagger.

This new blog tips its ideological hand with links to Jay P. Greene's Blog and the website of the $20 million Walton Department of School Vouchers. There are other political blogs listed, too, but it appears that most hang to the right. The principal blogger is Joshua McGee, one of Greene's Research Associates and no friend of public education. McGee boasts that he was the former headmaster at Haas Hall Academy, the charter school out at Farmington, where he was always arguing with the Arkansas Department of Education about certification of the curriculum and the shaky financial condition of the school. He is now a graduate student in the Wal-Mart College of Business. where he says he has a steady reading diet of Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek, neither of whom would be mistaken for supporters of public schools.

One of the regular posters is Brian Kisida, another Research Associate in Greene's Klavern, who co-authored a report with Greene for the right-wing Manhattan Institure and later republished in a journal, claiming that civic education in public schools went to hell in a handbasket sometime after the Brown decision and the Civil Rights Act when multi-cultutalism resulted in more schools named after King and Chavez than Truman. The real shame came when schools started getting named for natural features like Happy Hollow, Owl Creek, Woodland, Hillcrest, or Butterfield Trail instead of dead white guys like Washington, Jefferson, and Leverett. "If we can’t agree on a school name less innocuous than a creek," they asked, "what are the odds that schools will teach... or take a stand on the virtues of liberty?" Eco-sissies, indeed.

The blog is well-written and uses the attractive WordPress format. Whether it is just the mouthpiece for Mrs. Masterson and Dr. Greene to bash public schools or can present an independent mind and broader perspective on other topics from mid-America, we will soon see, assuming it lasts longer than next Tuesday's election.


  1. Mr. Sawyer and Mr. McGee might object to taxpayers building a new high school, but they don't seem to have any problem with their wives being on the Fayetteville School District payroll.

  2. Thanks for the post Jonah. We appreciate you pointing people our way. We will link to you on our blog now that you are posting regularly again.

  3. Jonah -- You're right about the Mid-Riff being well written -- irrespective the motives that you assign them. Here's their latest set of strong questions (below), which you might help clarify.

    Personally, I am troubled by your post above that mocks the Iconoclast's banner quote and casts those who question the current FHS group- think as Teabaggers and "aginners". I mourn the loss of Jonah's clarion voice of level-headed righteousness and reason.

    *** From Mid-Riff today ---

    The Fayetteville School District announced today that..well, it’s not exactly clear. A cryptic post on the District’s blog says the following:

    "The Fayetteville School District learned today that the Arkansas Department of Education plans to release $113,443,000 in stimulus credits on September 21. Applying the rules of the program and understanding that a limited number of school districts applied for credits by the 2009 deadline, the new Fayetteville High School project could receive approximately $54 million of these credits for use in financing the project.

    This will significantly lower the district’s interest rate on the bonds and reduce the date the bonds will be paid off by perhaps as much as six years.

    The Stimulus credits could equal an interest savings of approximately $63,000,000, depending upon market conditions at the time the bonds are being offered. According to Dr. Lisa Morstad, chief financial officer of the district, “Due to the Stimulus Act, this is a very unique opportunity in which the district will be able to finance the new high school under extremely favorable terms. We are uniquely positioned in 2009 to take advantage of these credits, since the 2010 credits cycle will likely have many more participants, making the allocations much smaller. We’re grateful to Dennis Hunt and the staff at Stephens, Inc., for informing us of this opportunity and helping us through the process.”

    Use of the credits for the new high school is contingent on the passage of the proposed millage increase on September 15.


    It’s not exactly clear what this means for the district, and they should work to clarify the meaning of the announcement as soon as possible.

    1) First of all, uhh, what does it mean to receive a “stimulus credit”? In layman’s terms, how does the credit work? Does the state subsidize the interest on the bond?

    2) What do they mean by “could”? Do they mean the district could be awarded the stimulus credit? Or do they mean the district will receive the credit and it could total $54 million?

    3) How is it that the credits are contingent on the passage of the millage?

    4) How do the credits translate into savings for the community? Will the credit simply increase the total amount the district has to spend, or will the effect be a net reduction in the amount citizens are being asked to fork over on Tuesday?

    Hopefully the district will soon be offering a clearer explanation.

  4. Jonah, instead of attacking the messengers, how about attacking the message.

    If you think we need to spend $115 million for a new high school, then let's hear you make the case for doing so.

  5. It is pure hypocrisy for someone who blogs under a pseudonym, like Jonah Tebbetts, ‎to focus exclusively on attacking the identity and associations of people who hold a ‎view that "Jonah" dislikes, while "Jonah's" anonymity prevents any examination of ‎his/her own identity and associations. "Jonah" should dispense with the ad hominem ‎and actually address the merits of the issue.‎

    I know that I am posting this comment anonymously, but I do so believing that who you ‎are does not make what you have to say true or false. "Jonah" writes anonymously ‎while believing that who one works for, is Facebook-friends with, and reads are all-‎important. And I won't even mention all of the ways in which "Jonah" mis-describes ‎the people he/she is attacking. ‎

    Is hypocrisy, ad hominem, and factual inaccuracy what passes for blogging at the ‎Iconoclast?‎

  6. Jonah – We look to you for rational assessment of public talk and public acts. I think you got carried away in indignation against the teabag folks and forgot there are left-leaners and independents who oppose such a hefty tax hike for this FHS project as it’s been devised and marketed. I don’t think I’m ignorant and reactionary, and I know I’m not against building an improved high school on that site, and I’m heartily in favor of funding public education, I'm agin' vouchers, and, in case this fails to impress, I support single payer health care, oppose most wars, and believe studies that indicate some socialism makes for a happier and healthier population. Opposition to the millage might spring from various political philosophies or from a common sense of proportion. I’m not sure what you mean by “narrow view” of a “single topic”, millage. In spite of public discussion, we didn’t frame that issue. The school district or their mentors did. They have made this all or nothing. They have not proposed (1) modest or incremental projects (2) NOT adding 9th grade, (3) 2 moderate-sized high schools. I hope you’ll rethink your comments. Anon. 10:46 makes a good point -- analyzing the message makes a better argument than attacking the messenger.

  7. I think that Jonah's being misread here. His opposition to the millage is well-known. I think his whole point is to beware of wolves in sheep's clothing with regards to mid-riffs.

    In all honesty, I think that he, and probably Aubrey S, and probably Fayettevillage Voice are all feeling a little sheepish at the moment. They all three (I believe) hailed mid-riffs on their coming out, feeling that they'd found a kindred voice in their opposition to the millage. Little did they know that mid-riffs is a thinly veiled mouthpiece for the conservative education agenda espoused by Jay P. Greene and his lackeys up at the UofA. They'd hailed and jumped into bed with the enemy without even realizing it. I think Jonah's post is a bit of a mea culpa and a warning to others that there might be a bit more of an agenda behind mid-riffs than "a view from Mid-America." More like "a view from the offices of Ed. Policy Reform."

  8. And who exactly are we all jumping into bed with when we read The Iconoclast? We have no idea because Jonah Tebbetts is a pseudonym.

    That's what makes focusing on the identiity and associations of people at Mid-Riff pure hypocrisy for an anonymous "Jonah" and an anonymous 8:37.

    Rather than all this ad hominem can't "Jonah" and Anonymous 8:37 act like grown-ups and talk about the substance of each issue? Do they have to keep lists of "enemies"? How about reason and evidence?

  9. Full disclosure (in contrast to Mike Masterson in today's Demozette): I am married to a school district employee, one who favors the new high school and is active in the campaign supporting it.

    So, what?

    So, you are entitled to know that before considering anything I say on the subject. It's a credibility matter.

    That's Jonah's point. He's not "attacking the messenger." He's trying to put relevant context to the message. It may not be material to you (or me), but it's hardly irrelevant. It's as simple as, "Consider the source."

    Furthermmore, Jonah's larger point is that the anti-millage message under consideration comes from people who are skeptical of public education, not only in practice but in concept. It also comes from people who are against any and all additional taxes, not just the proposed one. You are entitled to ponder, in evaluating their arguments, whether their opposition is motivated by a broader agenda, or may even be merely reflexive.

    It's information, albeit put in the always amusing, ego-puncturing Iconoclastic style. One man's "ad hominem" is another man's chuckle.

    In that vein, frankly, what I detect above is a bit of liberal guilt over (a)tight-fistedly opposing the best high school the community could have and (b) the company you have to keep in doing it.

  10. I see. And who's Jonah? If we must "consider the source," then what kind of source is Jonah?You can't have it both ways.

    I prefer that we focus on evidence and reason rather than a bunch of (inaccurate) name-calling and guilt by association.

  11. Anonymous speech is a great thing in theory. In the age of the Internet, however, it has become harder to defend in practice, not in the least because there's so damn much of it. But, there's another aspect of this Internet age, exemplified here.

    Jonah is not an anonym. Jonah is a psuedonym, and a well-established one. Jonah has a track record, one of usually reliable information and insightful comment. That record gives Jonah an identity and a "street cred" in this medium. That's a quality distinct from complete anonymity, and thus distinct from having it both ways.

    One and a half ways, maybe, but obviously we can live with that or we wouldn't keep coming back.

    Yet, it seems that some of us would have it as a rule that one who has not disclosed his associations may not identify the associations of others.

    Hmmm. What was that about the hobgoblin of little minds?

  12. Nice try, mrearle. Being anonymous and having a pseudonym is a distinction without a difference in this case. Yes, a pseudonym can establish a reputation, but it does not reveal associations. And since "Jonah" is using associations to determine reputation, and since we don't know anything about "Jonah's" associations, we necessarily have an incomplete picture of his/her reputation.

    And as soon as people start talking about "hobgoblins" you know that they are admitting to being logically inconsistent and don't care. You might as well say "mine goes to 11" from Spinal Tap.

    If "Jonah" and disciples want to establish a reputation for logical inconcistency, they are doing an excellent job.

  13. Anyone who uses the word "teabagger" is on the intellectual level of people who use "cocksucker" as an insult. It's just juvenile gay-baiting in place of an argument.

  14. Hard to figure which is the most discouraging:
    sickening posts like that of 7:02 or the Times' attempt to bury the "stimulus credit" story deep inside the paper today on page A6. I saw nothing in the Morning News, but they may have buried the story even deeper.

  15. I usually lurk without posting, but even if I had something provocative to say, I would post anonymously. If I were retired, unemployed, or working at some university policy center, I would have no fear in signing my name. No risk there. The fear is not so much for myself as for my children, who would suffer should I lose my job for having and expressing different views from my boss or his customers. A. T. Will

  16. .

    Hey, that's a good handle
    "A. T.Will Firee"

    As in employee vs employer
    as in rapee vs. raper

    All the baiting in the world is not gonna get an
    ID for JT. Perhaps the name is legion.


  17. I belive I'll be anonymousSeptember 13, 2009 at 11:20 AM

    Jonah is a state of mind.

    The OPINIONS on this blog are just the rantings of someone who has the courage to bring to the forefront all those things that are discussed in coffee shops and lunch counters every day.

    As all of us that follow this blog have seen, Jonah, like all of our friends, occasionally says something we do not agree with.
    If we were all in agreement all of the time there would be no blogs.

    Anonymity is a wonderful thing, in that we can say things we would normally be guarded to say.

    After all isn't freedom of speech part of what this country is founded upon.

    Don't worry about who is writing the blog, just worry and think about what is written.

  18. Wonder what Laurie Taylor Masterson is going to do with car when she catches it?

  19. I agree with you entirely, 11:20, when you say, "Don't worry about who is writing the blog, just worry and think about what is written."

    But that same principle should be applied to the writers of Mid-Riffs and everyone else.

    Jonah's post did nothing but focus on who was writing Mid-Riffs while ignoring what they had to say. Doing this is total hypocrisy for someone who blogs anonymously. And you should condemn Jonah for expecting treatment that he is unwilling to offer to others.

  20. Yet another post boiling down to one thing: a conspiracy theory.

    Who's on first.

  21. The difference between a pseudonymous post and an anonymous comment? Of the 21 comments following Jonah's post, 15 are from "Anonymous" and 1 is from "I belive [sic] I'll be anonymous". It's impossible to keep track of the discussion, as there is no way to tell who has contributed what. I know who Jonah the blogger is, even though I don't know who that person is (or those persons are). I also know who Mr. Dooley, mrearl and eLwood are-- online. And that's what I need to know.

    Anonymous 7:02 PM: The sexual practice of teabagging is not strictly, or even predominantly, homosexual. If tax protesters hadn't tried to compare their protests to the Boston Tea Party, and if these protests didn't seem to be their favorite hobby-- their "bag", as it were-- they wouldn't have the problem of being referred to with a word that is also used to refer to a sexual practice.

  22. Actually, David Franks, you have no idea who "Jonah" is. You may know what he/she has written in the past, but you don't know who his/her associations are.

    If those associations are important (and judging by Jonah's post, they seem to be all-important to him/her), then for all you know Jonah is motivated in this or other instances by a personal connection/benefit.

  23. Actually, Anonymous 8:21 PM,

    I know better who Jonah is than I know who any anonymous commenter is.

  24. I'm sure that's true, David Franks. But you still don't know any of "Jonah's" associations even though "Jonah" seems to think that knowing people's associations is all-important for assessing whether they are are right in what they say.

    I think that's the wrong approach. We should focus on the merits of people's arguments regardless of who they are or with whom they associate.

    Jonah, and apparently you, don't agree. But it is completely hypocritical to assess the claims of others based on their associations while intentionally hiding one's own associations. This is precisely what Jonah is doing and he/she should be condemned for it.

  25. I'm not being a hypocrite. My position is that associations don't matter.

  26. For those of you who are interested, we have a new (some would say pro-millage) post over at

  27. Anon 9:35, how can you possibly argue this? We live in a state where, it seems, little else DOES matter.
    The Governor last week recommends Tom Kimbrell to be the next Comm. of Education for the state. He seems to be well qualified but the story in the Dogazette read like an exercise in genealogy, what with his daddy before him being a big mucky in education.
    Lest we forget, we live in a place where it is perfectly legal for industry rep's. to sit on the State Commissions which (allegedly) regulate their industry.
    When is the last time you ever saw an article about someone running for public office which didn't list how long they lived here, etc.?
    Conversely, there are local people who have lost their jobs / been sued for publically pointing out facts such as these.
    Give it up for Jonah(s). His agenda is fine by me (we all have one), and surrendering my obsession with who he might be connected to is a small price to pay for this blog. And lest we forget, he is not compensated for being Jonah, unlike our local visionaries, journalists, and gov. types.

  28. The Echo-Chamber of Public Input

    Read this, anyone who is still confused by the millage vote.

  29. I just read it. He's off-target, but he comes near making a good point.

  30. I posted four comments to the blog item mentioned above by Anonymous 3:49 PM. Two of them have been edited and one removed, apparently because I asked Mr. Greene whether his children attend or will attend Fayetteville High School. I wonder why Mr. McGee has more tolerance for a bunch of people joking about their anonymity than for somebody interested in a discussion. Oh, never mind-- the anonymous commenters agreed with the posted article.

    My first post ended with the following:

    "Just so we’ll all know: are any of Mr. Greene’s children attending Fayetteville High School? If not yet of high school age, will they attend Fayetteville High School, or will they attend Haas Hall?"

    My third post ended with the following:

    "You neglected to answer my question about the schooling of your children."

    The following two posts (which followed my third post) were removed from the thread:

    [Josh McGee] "David, I think your final question is both out-of-bounds and irrelevant. We do not ask you to reveal any of your personal information (e.g. family composition, history, or financial information) when you express opinions on Mid-Riffs. Asking questions like this only distract from the debate. Please refrain from this type of inquiry in the future.



    [DF} "Mr. Greene made his children relevant by putting them in his by-line. If he wishes to justify his stake in the matter by telling us he has children in the schools, then he should be willing to tell us just what that stake is. Answering the question won’t make it any easier for anybody to stalk his children. If Mr. Greene objects to by question, I would prefer to hear that from him. Although this is your blog, I don’t see how it is your place to intercede for him.

    "If I wrote an opinion piece for a blog, I would expect to answer questions about my qualifications– especially if I brought them up in the first place.

    "For the sake of reciprocity: I have no children that I know of. My stake in the public schools is merely that I am a member of the public who is willing to pay for them because they have public benefits even though they don’t babysit for me.

    "Thank you."

    My fifth comment pointing this out to readers of the thread will probably be deleted as well:
    "Just so readers of this thread know: The owner of this blog has taken it upon himself to edit my first and third posts, and to delete two posts, one his and one mine, based on his perception that I asked an inappropriate question of Mr. Greene. Either he took it upon himself to intercede for Mr. Greene, or Mr. Greene is not willing to stand up for his article. Either way, it seems to call into question the usefulness of this blog for the exchange of ideas. I will post the missing material at The Iconoclast."

  31. I dunno Frank, I compared what they left up and what they removed and I think they have a valid point. It's not cool to start demanding info about people's kids on the interent. You said you didn't have any, perhaps if you did you see things differently. No parent would find your behavior cool.

    You say you're willing to pay for the school. What's your street address here in Fayetteville? Are you willing to prove your stake in this debate by giving out your address here on the internet? How about your phone number? Just sayin...

  32. As I said, Mr. Greene brought his kids into the discussion as part of his qualifications for writing the article. Since Mr. Greene is something of a skeptic when it comes to public schools in general, I think my question as to his true level of participation is fair.

    I don't care about the lack of an answer to my question. My concern is that Mr. McGee has taken it upon himself to censor and remove comments (my fifth is now missing as well) without indicating in the thread that he has done so-- particularly as he removed two comments that questioned the way he operates his blog. He also has not given Mr. Greene, to whom my question was directed, a chance to answer or refuse to answer. Secretly altering content, chastising readers by e-mail, refusing to stand up for his content and failing to give his contributors a chance to stand up for theirs is a poor way to run a blog. I had hoped for better.

    I do not yet live in Fayetteville, but I will live in Fayetteville within a year.

  33. Really? At what address? I just want to know your "true level of participation."

    Also, if I started posting personal information about you and your family in this comment would you get angry at Iconoclast for taking it down?

  34. Mr. Greene included his children as one of his credentials for writing an article in which he presumes to tell the school district how to conduct its business; I do not present myself as an authority. Despite his greater obligation to credibility, I have already given to the extent I can the same information I have asked of Mr. Greene. Well, not quite: if I had children, I would send them to the regular public high school. (That should cover it.) As for protecting his children, if they are not yet in high school how does telling me which school they will attend endanger them? If they are in high school, hundreds of people already know which one they attend.

    In any case, I have e-mailed Mr. Greene directly so he can decide how to handle the matter rather than Mr. McGee.

    I would prefer that The Iconoclast not remove or alter any information in a thread without noting that the editing was done.

  35. Gee-
    I'm just a piss-ant Fayetteville taxpayer trying to survive by writing articles based upon historical research and analysis.

    Does Wal-Mart have any good jobs for Historical Researchers and Analysts? By "good jobs", I mean "do they include a iving wage and health benefits? By "health benefits" I guess I mean "insurance" rather than "healthcare." There is a difference.

    The pro-millage advocates based their arguments upon ann emotional attachment to an existing facility without regard to the needs of the students or the population as a whole. The main argument in favor of a "mega-school" was that the sports program would benefit from being a big fish in a small UIL pond.

    As George H. W. Bush supporters would put it, "you lost -- get over it."

    Hopefully the voters of Fayetteville will continue to vote based upon intelligent planning rather than porrly-coonceived emotional appeals.