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· Texas-Style Bovine Epistemology ·

I don't think I mentioned our trip to Texas. Stylish and I spent spring break in Bandera, "The Cowboy Capital of the World," taking in sights in Houston and San Antonio, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and Austin, too. Returning two weeks ago last Saturday, we have been busy teaching since.

Ironically, Texas teaching framed our trip from first to last. Initially passing through some dairyland enroute to SEA-TAC, we got word of Barbara Bush's plans to donate — through her son Neil's IgniteLearning company in Austin — COWs (Curricula on Wheels) to Houston's Independent School District. You may have seen the story. Meant partly for Katrina victims, the family largesse looks suspiciously like a clever tax gimmick — and it may just smack of Bushism, too (corporate cronyism).

 · The Cow · We didn't reflect on it more till, visiting later in Texas's Bob Bullock State History Museum, we saw in Austin a COW being rolled in for public presentation. Well, you can imagine our surprise: that the thing (pictured at right) was being brazenly displayed in public suggested a better teaching tool I can show a bit more modestly in print — Bill Perry's famous 1963 essay, "Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts." I thought to define its two essentials.

Perry himself calls his piece a study in "Educational Epistemology," turning on the bovine concepts of "cow" and "bull." Here are Perry's definitions:

Cow (pure): data, however relevant, without relevancies.

Bull (pure): relevancies, however relevant, without data.

And again:

To cow (v. intrans.) or the act of cowing:
To list data (or perform operations) without awareness of, or comment upon, the contexts, frames of reference, or points of observation which determine the origin, nature, and meaning of the data (or procedures). To write on the assumption that "a fact is a fact." To present evidence of hard work as a substitute for understanding, without any intent to deceive.

To bull (v. intrans.) or the act of bulling:
To discourse upon the contexts, frames of reference and points of observation which would determine the origin, nature, and meaning of data if one had any. To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content.

Today, reflecting on the clan's claims to leadership, I'm wondering if, in public as well as private, the Bushes have somehow got "cow" and "bull" together in a way better recognized, rather more neutrally, as "The Bum Steer."

In any event, to the Georges, Neil, Jeb, and, of course, Barbara, here's my slightly more literal, semi-pictorial version. · The Bum Steer ·


Such fun! Touché!

Posted by Loretta Markle on April 18, 2006 04:18 PM

My interpretation of your ending graphic is that you're really saying "bullshit!"

Posted by Luther on April 22, 2006 04:16 PM

Like your historic namesake, I sometimes confess to "excremental visions," Luther, but not here. Harry G. Frankfurt's "On Bullshit," though, could make for some additional "worthwhile reading."

And also:

Gonorrhea Lectim — The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning about a new virulent strain of a sexually-transmitted disease. The disease is contracted through dangerous and high risk behavior.

The disease is called Gonorrhea Lectim, pronounced "gonna re-elect him." Many victims contracted it in 2004 after having been screwed for the previous four years.

Cognitive characteristics of individuals infected include: anti-social personality disorders, delusions of grandeur with messianic overtones, extreme cognitive dissonance, inability to incorporate new information, pronounced xenophobia and paranoia, inability to accept responsibility for own actions, cowardice masked by misplaced bravado, uncontrolled facial smirking, ignorance of geography and history, tendencies towards evangelical theocracy, and, finally, categorically "all-or-nothing" behavior.

Naturalists and epidemiologists are amazed at how this destructive disease originated only a few years ago from a bush found in Texas.

Posted by Styles on April 24, 2006 02:12 PM

A more recent diagnosis, misidentified here as Rummyache by Hendrik Hertzberg, comes from The New Yorker (5-1-06):

A couple of weeks ago, answering a question from a student after giving a speech at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Bush provided [Hertzberg writes] a hint of the emotional texture of his extraordinary dependence on his Secretary of Defense. "My question," the young woman said,

is in regards to private military contractors. The Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

The President: I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter) Help. (Laughter)

Q: I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws, which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws. . . . Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?

The President: I appreciate that very much. I wasn't kidding. (Laughter ) I was going to — I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question. (Laughter ) This is what delegation — I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never — (laughter ). I really will — I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work. I'm — thanks. (Laughter )

Thanks? No. No, thanks. (And no laughter.) He's the decider, and there's the rub.

Indeed — and so it is.

Posted by Styles on April 28, 2006 01:56 PM

A former Washington student, I am now a Texan Seminary Student. I have had the unique opportunity to see the COW in use at an Educational District Meeting — an interesting concept, but a useless peice of equipment that denies some of the most rudamentary needs of education. It gives the phrase "full of bull" a new, if not graspable, meaning!

I notice the frequency of the blogs to be declining. I hope this isn't a lasting pattern!

Posted by Sherry Higdon on September 4, 2006 11:11 PM

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