Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Take the pledge

I mean, swear it off

It's the end of the year and I'm busy making last-minute contributions (here's to you, Alison), including paying up memberships for my local public radio and television stations. Perhaps you have the same reaction I do to the frequent pledge drives. It astonishes me how clumsy and intrusive they are, especially in the case of television. We get to see the same people say the same thing over and over and over again while rerunning the same chopped-up special programs on Victor Borge, Blenko Glass, or—worse—tawdry pitches for unreliable medical or psychological nostrums from the likes of Null, Perricone, or Dyer.

Why do supposedly smart people promote their stations by screwing them up? Why can't the crème de la crème do a minimally competent job of making pledge drives tolerable? It's agonizing how they incessantly repeat the same tired old pitches, gibber at the cameras, pan across telephone banks, and promise intermittently to return to some “special programming” that has been sliced up into bloody chunks. Herewith my modest year end's proposal for less grueling pledge drives on public television.

First of all, no chopped-up special programs. If regular programming is interrupted at all, let the specials be intact and uninterrupted. Since we've all been conditioned to deal with TV screens cluttered with those damned identification “bugs,” why not make more creative use of the video real estate. Most screens are bigger these days and readily subject to manipulation. Embed regular programming in an L-shaped frame. Use the horizontal bar of the frame to keep visible the public TV station's 800 number for pledges. Use the vertical bar for some kind of fundraising thermometer.

That's not quite enough, of course, because the usual format of a public TV pledge drive involves intermediate goals that they hector the viewers to achieve before allowing a return to actual programming. The threat of extended pledge breaks is presumably indispensable for forcing viewers to call in their pledges, but I think creative use of the fundraising thermometer could be an alternative. Set it up so that a target goal is displayed, rising incrementally throughout the pledge period. Also, however, display actual pledge receipts, letting viewers know that real programming will continue—without pledge breaks!—as long as the actual pledge level stays ahead of the rising target. In the mocked-up illustration, I've marked the supposed goal in red and the actual pledges in green. Keep the green marker above the red marker to keep the programming running and the pledge pitches shut down.

Think about it. Wouldn't the Downton Abbey aficionados call in their pledges to preserve the dowager countess from an uncouth interruption?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Brain damage!

Explaining students

Two of the greatest minds in pedagogy recently came together to ponder some of the profoundest educational conundrums of the era. Or, to put it more prosaically, I called up a former student of mine for a chat. I, of course, hold a prestigious tenured professorship at a California community college. He is a lecturer in English at an out-of-state university. No, we are not universally recognized as the leading experts in our respective fields, but we figure that's mostly the fault of other people. Whenever we talk, we quickly reach agreement in our perspectives and opinions. It immediately follows that the many deficiencies in modern education must stem mostly from a failure to sufficiently adopt our preferred policies and emulate our instructional practices. Just listen to us! It's really quite a pity that so straightforward a solution to so many problems continues to languish unrecognized.

However, we should accept the need for a modicum of caution. There is an unfortunate gap in our grasp of the educational enterprise. Upon comparing notes, PiD and I have come to the unhappy realization that our immense intellects have yet to figure out what makes our students go. (Or not go.) It's perplexing!

For example, I told my entire algebra class that our mastery of the quadratic formula meant that we would never again face a quadratic equation for which “no solution” was a satisfactory answer. Solutions would always exist, whether rational, irrational, or complex. Always! Yet on the next exam several of my students labeled some of the quadratic equations as “prime” and solemnly wrote “no solution” in the answer blank.

PiD advised his English composition class that rewrites were a fundamental component of composition and that course grades would rely much more on their diligence in rewriting and improving their essays than on generating sparkling first drafts. As the academic term progressed, several students asked him how to get better grades. “Have you submitted rewrites of all of your essays?” he asked. “We didn't know we had to do that!” they told him. “But the due dates for rewrites are on the syllabus and I send out e-mail reminders as the dates approach!” “Yeah, but we can't know those unless we look at the syllabus or check our e-mail. You should have told us in class.” “But I did tell you in class!” “Well, maybe. But did you check that we were in class that day? I'm too busy to come to class every day, you know.”

A student wrote me a note in response to a problem on the calculus final exam. The problem asked, “What is the area inside the circle r = 3 and outside the cardioid r = 2(1 – cos θ)?” My student wrote, “Failed because I forgot the eq. for a circle in polar coordinates.” Um. Did you notice? The problem said, “the circle r = 3”?

The great minds of the age crumple in defeat.

Perhaps I did not sufficiently recognize a learning opportunity of my own from decades ago, back when my intellect was forming and a famous educator was trying to teach me some vital lessons.  William H. Cosby, Jr., Ed.D. (1976, UMass, Amherst), discovered these clues during highly personalized field research on his own family. Perhaps our students, like Cosby's children, are led into irrational, disturbing behavior by brain damage. It would explain so much!

If only I had paid more attention back then.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trifling with tradition

A dangerous experiment

The initial notice came from my mother, who called with information about the family's holiday plans: “Thanksgiving dinner will be at your brother's.”

I felt a sudden frisson of anxious concern. And skepticism.

“He has your permission for this?”

“Oh, I think it's a great idea!”

My suspicion was not alleviated. Surely Mom was in denial. Or perhaps she had forgotten the lessons of the past, back when we tried this experiment before. As best as I can recall, it was in the early seventies. Perhaps late sixties. The family had quite overwhelmed the grandparents' dining space. Holiday dinners were served in shifts—menfolk and children at the first sitting, womenfolk and stragglers at the second. (I often managed to prolong my meal through both shifts, occasionally provoking my obese aunt to remark “I hate people like you” as she regarded my scrawny frame.)

In the year in question, someone (I don't know who) hit upon the idea of relocating the family holiday meal to my godmother's home. She had a spacious dining area with ample room for folding tables and an adjacent kitchen counter with stools that the kids loved. My avó (grandmother) was prevailed upon to give her assent and the new world order was implemented.

As I recall, my grandmother did a minimal amount of cooking that year and all the main dishes were prepared by my godmother, Mom, and aunt. Avó was enthroned as guest of honor and scarcely allowed to lift a finger. She presided over the adult table in a regal manner instead of bustling to and fro between kitchen and dining room. She seemed serene.

That's why it came as a shock and surprise when she burst into tears upon returning home and wept the afternoon away. There was no holiday mess in her home and no lingering cooking odors in the air. Avó sat in a home bereft of any trace that it had been a special family holiday and it sucked all the joy of the occasion out of her.

We never made that mistake again. For the rest of my grandmother's life, every subsequent Thanksgiving was squeezed into her home. While others gradually took over more and more of the cooking, Avó was unambiguously in charge of the event and no one trifled with the matriarch's prerogatives as queen of the kitchen and hostess of the event.

Hence my trepidation. While Mom appeared to be on board with my brother's plans, I wondered whether she remembered her mother-in-law's emotional trauma at being displaced.

On Thanksgiving morning, I arrived at the old homestead to find my brother in Mom's kitchen, carving the Thanksgiving ham. Our mother was hovering over the turkey, which was nearly ready to remove from the oven. Shortly before noon, a stream of pans, dishes, and bowls were conveyed outside to the runabout (an electric-powered light utility vehicle used to run errands on the dairy farm) and trundled next door to my brother's workshop. The shop floor had been cleared of current projects (like my brother's rebuilding of the family's old Willys-model Jeep) and a series of round tables and folding chairs set up in the open space—with enough room left over for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to run about like maniacs. The pans, dishes, and bowls were arrayed on a long buffet table, people filled their plates to overflowing, and Thanksgiving dinner got underway.

“How does it feel to have dinner with everyone else, Mom?”

The question came from my brother.

“Pretty nice,” she replied, smiling, with no hint of reservation.

The leisurely meal lasted well over an hour, winding down with a dessert service. Mom and Dad were at the table where I was seated, so I kept an eye on her, nursing an abiding suspicion. Eventually various family members began to take their leave in order to meet other responsibilities. (My goddaughter would rack up five separate Thanksgiving events by the time she finished visiting relatives and in-laws and close friends.) Before the event had quite broken up, Mom announced that we would be meeting in the same venue for Christmas and my brother nodded his head in confirmation.

“That was really nice,” she said, as we left. “And such a relief!”

I guess those who remember history are sometimes doomed to worry needlessly about repeating it.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's the law!

Can't anybody here play this game?

My lack of interest in sports is well-nigh complete. Please don't bother making small talk with me by asking whether I “saw the game last night.” Nevertheless, even I remember Casey Stengel's lament about his wretched New York Mets: “Can't anybody here play this game?” Stengel's question sometimes echoes in my head whenever I see another fumble by the Obama administration. (Yeah, I know: “fumble” is football. Did you forget that I don't care?)

Obama and company could stand to be a little more aggressive in the face of constant carping, petty backbiting, and outright lies. The president has been largely content to allow tea-stained critics to denounce him for “lying” about his statements that the Affordable Care Act would allow individuals to keep health insurance plans they liked. A little push-back would have been a good thing, instead of stoically accepting so much abuse and then apologizing.

In particular, I'm thinking Obama should have cited chapter and verse from the healthcare reform legislation itself. Yes, the measure is big and unwieldy (and Republicans like to pretend that no one knew what was in it despite months of delays and debates), but it's not impossible to look things up if you have specific questions. Have you ever read Sec. 1251? Did you even know it exists? Check it out:

    (1) IN GENERAL.—Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed to require that an individual terminate coverage under a group health plan or health insurance coverage in which such individual was enrolled on the date of enactment of this Act.
    (2) CONTINUATION OF COVERAGE.—With respect to a group health plan or health insurance coverage in which an individual was enrolled on the date of enactment of this Act, this subtitle and subtitle A (and the amendments made by such subtitles) shall not apply to such plan or coverage, regardless of whether the individual renews such coverage after such date of enactment.

(b) ALLOWANCE FOR FAMILY MEMBERS TO JOIN CURRENT COVERAGE.—With respect to a group health plan or health insurance coverage in which an individual was enrolled on the date of enactment of this Act and which is renewed after such date, family members of such individual shall be permitted to enroll in such plan or coverage if such enrollment is permitted under the terms of the plan in effect as of such date of enactment.

(c) ALLOWANCE FOR NEW EMPLOYEES TO JOIN CURRENT PLAN.—A group health plan that provides coverage on the date of enactment of this Act may provide for the enrolling of new employees (and their families) in such plan, and this subtitle and subtitle A (and the amendments made by such subtitles) shall not apply with respect to such plan and such new employees (and their families).
That's right. The provisions of the healthcare act expressly establish a person's right to keep a health plan! The language is clear and explicit. In what way, then, did the president lie? Why, then, are people losing their current plans despite Sec. 1251?

Simple. Nothing forces the insurance companies to continue to offer those plans. Sec. 1251 has an invisible and unanticipated qualification: You can keep your current plan if your insurance company doesn't cancel it! The Obama administration cared enough to put the language of Sec. 1251 in the bill, but it failed to anticipate how many insurance companies would use the measure's enactment as an excuse for immediate cancellation of plans that don't meet Obamacare standards. Are we grandfathered in for a period of time? Who cares? We insurance companies sure don't!

Perhaps the president needs a little help in rebutting his critics, but it's probably too late for him to deliver the following short speech I just drafted:
My fellow Americans, you have heard many critics accusing me of having lied to you when I said, ‘If you like your health plan you can keep your health plan.’ Most of them know that accusation is false. In fact, that provision was expressly written into the Affordable Care Act. I quote word-for-word from Section 1251: ‘Nothing in this Act ... shall be construed to require that an individual terminate coverage under a group health plan or health insurance coverage in which such individual was enrolled on the date of enactment of this Act.’ So what happened? I'll tell you. Many insurance companies decided to cancel policies anyway, abandoning their clients despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act does not require it. Perhaps healthcare reform needed more mandates rather than fewer, but we did not require insurance companies to maintain their existing policies during the transition period. We should have been stricter.

Let me remind you again that nothing in the Affordable Care Act requires anyone to terminate a current health plan that does not initially meet the requirements of healthcare reform. They were grandfathered in. Unfortunately, the many people who were tossed aside by their insurance companies have not had ready access to a fully functioning health care website in order to seek out their most affordable alternatives. We are committed, however, to rectifying the situation and improvements are being made every day. We will stay the course and get the job done. In the meantime, whenever you hear someone screaming about the supposed lies and failings of healthcare reform, be sure to ask them what they are doing to help, besides just making baseless accusations. Thank you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lesson unlearned

College crisis by the Bay

The example of the accreditation crisis at City College of San Francisco is being cast as an important lesson to those involved in higher education. I fear, however, that not everyone is learning the right lesson. Consider, for example, the unfortunate Rafael Mandelman, first elected to the CCSF board of trustees in November 2012. He joined a board in upheaval. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior colleges had rejected the college's self-study report and application for reaffirmation of accreditation. Instead, the ACCJC had issued a “show cause” decision at its June 2012 meeting, which meant that CCSF had one year to show why it should not be shut down. Five months were already gone when Mandelman was elected to his board seat. By the time he was sworn in as the board's newest member in January 2013, two more months had gone by and the deadline for CCSF's response to the ACCJC was looming.

On March 15, 2013, CCSF submitted its Show Cause Report to the accrediting commission in hopes of having made its case for the college's continuing existence. In June the ACCJC met and in July the commission revealed that it had voted to terminate the college. CCSF had neither resolved the deficiencies identified in the 2012 evaluation nor demonstrated sufficient progress toward alleviating them. Barring dramatic developments, the college would close after its spring 2014 semester.

Trustee Mandelman, of course, had minimal impact on these developments. Not only was he the board's junior member, the entire board had been subordinated to a special trustee selected by the statewide community college chancellor. The dysfunctionality of the board had been highlighted in Recommendation 14 of the ACCJC evaluation, so the board was not being trusted to devise its own solution; adult supervision had been imposed. Even that, however, had not been enough to save the school. Understandably frustrated, Mandelman expressed his outrage in an opinion piece published in the July 21, 2013, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:
If the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is correct and City College has failed over the past year, there is plenty of blame to go around.

But I do not agree that City College has failed. There have been missteps, to be sure, but the facts do not support [California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice] Harris' portrayal of a recalcitrant institution resisting change. Rather, they show one that has moved quickly to bring itself into compliance with accreditation standards.

That real progress has been made over the last year is evidenced by the report of the accrediting commission's visiting team, which indicates that although work remains to be done, significant progress has been made in each of the 14 areas cited.
“Significant”? Perhaps. But obviously not deemed “sufficient” by the accrediting commission members. A dozen of the deficiencies had been previously identified in the ACCJC's 2006 evaluation of the college. Accreditation was reaffirmed, with a reasonable expectation of resolution of the problems by the time the 2012 cycle rolled around. Instead, the ACCJC found continued neglect and added two more deficiencies, producing the new baker's-dozen-plus-one recommendations. (In one of the more amusing responses to the lack of progress by CCSF, one of its exponents commented that it was never clear that CCSF could not just take it or leave it when it came to “recommendations.” But one should not take an Internet comment as representative of the college's understanding of the imperative nature of ACCJC recommendations.)

The list of recommendations constitutes a strong bill of indictment against CCSF, even when rendered in buzz-word summary form by the college itself in its Show Cause Report:
The College has focused its attention on responding to all 14 current Recommendations over the past nine months by:
  • revising and focusing the College Mission Statement (ACCJC Recommendation 1);
  • creating a more effective, integrated, data-informed planning process with the Mission Statement and Program Review as central mechanisms for decision making that promotes institutional effectiveness (ACCJC Recommendations 2 and 3);
  • engaging in a comprehensive, College-wide effort to centralize the documentation, reporting, and assessment of SLOs [Student Learning Outcomes] that informs institutional planning (ACCJC Recommendations 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6);
  • identifying and implementing changes to the delivery of student services to better promote student achievement and access by all students, regardless of location (ACCJC Recommendations 2, 3, and 5);
  • developing more efficient administrative structures with greater authority and accountability (ACCJC Recommendation 7);
  • improving the management of physical resources, including the development of a model to determine total cost of ownership (ACCJC Recommendations 2, 3, and 8);
  • creating a comprehensive plan for equipment maintenance, upgrade, and replacement (ACCJC Recommendations 2, 3, and 9);
  • improving the College’s financial stability, integrity, and reporting (ACCJC Recommendations 2, 3, 10, and 11);
  • developing and implementing a new Participatory Governance system that is efficient, serves an advisory function, and promotes transparency (ACCJC Recommendations 12 and 13);
  • and providing the Board of Trustees with opportunities to realize fully their appropriate role and responsibilities (ACCJC Recommendation 14).
No wonder that CCSF could not adequately address all of these deficiencies between the “show cause” ruling in June 2012 and the response submission in May 2013, especially given the shortcomings in the college's planning and administrative processes.

While CCSF remains accredited through the current academic year, the negative impact of the accreditation ruling is already evident. Student enrollment is dropping and open staff positions are difficult to fill. Trustee Mandelman is ready to place the blame:
What City College does not need are stern lectures or threats, from Brice Harris or the commission. What it needs now is time: time to continue to address the real problems the commission identified last year and the ones they missed; time, frankly, to recover from the damage that the commission has done.
Chancellor Harris's people have been in place during the past year attempting to bail out CCSF, but Mandelman does not appreciate Harris's frank acknowledgment of the college's shortcomings. Almost all of the deficiencies have been on the record for half a dozen years while the powers-that-be at CCSF took a mañana approach to addressing them, but now there is no tomorrow.

I might point out that Dr. Harris is probably the best advisor and overseer that CCSF could hope for. When he was chancellor of the four-college Los Rios district based in Sacramento, Harris steered all of his schools through three rounds of accreditation with no significant findings of deficiency and numerous commendations. It's worth listening to him.

I have yet to mention a side-issue which some people in the CCSF community may be contemplating with undue optimism. The ACCJC has long been regarded as more draconian than other regional accrediting agencies—and there's evidence to support the charge, especially given the higher rates at which the ACCJC imposes sanctions compared to other regional accreditation agencies. The U.S. Department of Education has slapped the ACCJC with its own list of deficiencies. The unduly optimistic are therefore celebrating the treatment of the gander in accordance to what it inflicted on various geese. 

In brief, the Department of Education cited the ACCJC for lack of clarity in providing institutions with due process and in appropriately constituting its evaluation teams. The commission's responses to these shortcomings should make future evaluation cycles a little more civilized. However, there was nothing in the Department of Education's recommendations (there's that word again!) to suggest that previous accreditation decisions were so flawed as to require review or revocation. CCSF has to play the cards it was dealt.

The college needs to acknowledge more frankly the stark reality of what occurred: Its problems do not stem from the arbitrary decision of a star chamber tribunal populated by faceless bureaucrats. In reality, an evaluation team of peers—staff, faculty, and managers from other community colleges—visited CCSF and found it wanting. The peers reported to the commissioners of the ACCJC—who are also peers recruited from the ranks of community college faculty and management—and the commissioners concurred with the findings of deficiency. Until your peers agree that you're doing a good job, you're probably not.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The GOP wants you!

In your place, of course

When the August recess arrives, members of congress will (in most cases) return to their districts to ingratiate themselves with the constituents who will be deciding their fates in November's general election. Naturally enough, many of them look to the organs of their political parties for support in this endeavor. We recently learned that the House Republican Conference has the backs of the GOP representatives in congress, providing them with a 31-page manual for maximizing their effectiveness during the crucial days of August. The manual is titled Fighting Washington for All Americans, which clearly implies that the Republicans have nothing to do with Washington (“doing nothing” is arguably true) and that voters must choose Republicans to fix all of the things that Republicans have wrecked in the last several years (like the economy and employment).

Fighting Washington is replete with the sort of subtle and sophisticated strategies that you would expect from the party of Boehner, especially when it comes to outreach techniques that bring women and minorities into the fold. (The “fold,” as with sheep, right?) Since each picture is worth a thousand words, let's take a look at the most eloquent part of the Republican play book. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for women in leadership positions and black and brown people in any role at all. (Hint: These latter appear almost as often as Waldo.) First, though, the textual preamble.

The women do at least start off strong in the text, where the one-named “Cathy” (like “Cher,” I presume) provides a full-page introduction whose third paragraph is
We know that Washington is broken. It spends too much, borrows too much, and takes too much. It targets people for what they believe. It chokes out jobs with more red tape, blocks new energy resources and makes our health care crisis worse. Our government is out of control.
A killer argument. (Don't forget now: The GOP has nothing to do with Washington's failures.) On the next page, Republican House members are exhorted to submit op-ed pieces to their local print media. A complete sample draft is provided for Republicans too dim to write their own. What's the lead? This:
As we conclude another busy legislative session in Washington, I look forward to working hard at home for the month of August. Each day I am grateful for the opportunity to represent you in our nation’s capital because Washington is broken and needs to be fixed.

It spends too much, borrows too much, and takes too much. It targets people for what they believe and punishes them for their political ideologies. It chokes out jobs with more red tape, blocks new energy resources, and makes our health care crisis worse.

Washington is out of control.
Hey, if it works on the members themselves, why shouldn't it also work on their dim constituents?

Let us now consider the importance of ginning up support from those “potentially targeted by the IRS.” This is ideal, because everyone is at least potentially subject to enhanced IRS scrutiny. One may as well start with the biggest real-life bogeyman of them all!

Check out the IRS's potential victims. That could be a token woman in the pink shirt, with her back toward us. The pants aren't very feminine, though, so we can't be certain. At least youth is represented by the teenage boy in the far corner. No doubt the revenuers are threatening his 501(c)(3) organization. Fortunately, the authority figure of the balding middle-aged man is present to instruct them on anti-IRS self-defense.

We can make a smooth segue from the IRS to the dangers of ObamaCare, which —as we all know—is merely a way to let the tax people threaten our health just as they do our wealth. The scruffy and rumpled doctor needs to be warned that the Obama administration's obsession over drug abuse (they really are rather over the top there) will threaten his easy access to prescription drugs for his recreational use (or energy boosts during long hours on duty in our understaffed socialist health system). That might be a woman there in the back, wearing purplish-blue and framed against a window. No doubt this is subliminal messaging that lets women know they're not entirely forgotten (just mostly ignored unless they're dangerously fertile).

A representative's constituency contains more than dissolute doctors and frightened IRS targets. To embrace the wide, wonderful world of one's district in all of its delightful diversity, organize a meetup! Be sure to salt the crowd with your hand-picked minions (“This will strengthen the conversation and take it in a direction that is most beneficial to the Member's goal.”)

This is the illustration the minions of the House Republican Conference chose to represent a typical meetup. Three white guys and one white gal. (Seen any minorities yet?) The woman is appropriately demure and quiet, listening with a docile demeanor to the guy in the middle. Observe the clasped hands of sincerity. Doesn't this look like fun?

One must be certain to use the August recess to argue in favor of people getting jobs (as distinct from actually passing job-stimulus legislation; this long-discredited socialist approach has been anathema since it was last done for the Bush administration). Fighting America—oops!—I mean Fighting Washington recommends a live YouTube Roundtable to boost jobs and fight (or at least whine) about unemployment.

As seen in the picture, a job roundtable need not be a roundtable at all. It can actually be as simple as a white guy haranguing people who are trying to have lunch in a cheap diner in an unidentified war zone. See the pensive lady in this one? (She's wondering if she's getting paid enough for this soul-killing posing job.)

Did you know that the Republicans favor family leave? It's another perfect topic for a roundtable! Your Republican representative can single the praises of the Working Families Flexibility Act, which empowers employers to rearrange your hours so as to avoid overtime pay. But don't worry, if you end up working overtime anyway and don't get a chance to take compensatory time off, you will eventually get paid. (Please don't think of this delayed compensation as an interest-free loan of your wages to your employer. That doesn't sound nearly as good as “flexibility.”)

As before, no roundtable is actually necessary. It's just an expression. Since we're talking about working families, it's important to run a photo with an unambiguous female in it. There's actually three or four in this one, and the nice lady in the blue top is congratulating a morbidly obese Tea Party member on his recent eating contest victory. Note the subtle way it reminded the reader about health issues and the dread impact of ObamaCare! And a bonus: There's a black guy in the back! Hi, black guy! (We're done with you now. Bye-bye!)

It's important to never stop hitting the jobs issue. (Remember, it's all Obama's fault that no jobs measure had gotten through the House of Representatives since the GOP took control in 2011. But what else could you expect from a shiftless black guy?) But let's stay on topic. Jobs!

The compassionate conservative congressman will find time to at least shake the hands of people waiting in an unemployment line. (Most of them are overweight, so look into cutting the food-stamp program some more.) There are one, two, maybe three women in this picture. A high point!

Now on to the job fair! Representative Bucshon managed to get his job fair on the local NBC affiliate. (Time to call up the local Fox affiliate and scream threats at them. Didn't Murdoch's check clear?)

There's something funny about this video-capture photo. Notice how the mix of men and women begins to approach societal norms when a real-life event is captured? Quite a contrast to the default choices of Republican operatives. Did any of them scratch their heads and think this picture was somehow “wrong” and out of place in their play book? I guess they decided to use it to please Rep. Bucshon. But it is a little jarring. (Hey! Is that a minority in the back? Or is he only in a shadow?)

The Republicans have a big demographic problem. Not only do minorities refuse to vote for them, so do most young people. But never fear! Having recognized this deficiency in their recruitment program, the GOP is highlighting the predatory impact of ObamaCare, which will force millennials to pay for healthcare while they're young and healthy, thus helping Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa to stay alive while the youngsters could be using that cash to improve the quality of their partying. Vile redistributionist policies! If young people can be inveigled into destroying ObamaCare today, they can live happier, wealthier lives right now and not be concerned about it till much, much later (which is another matter altogether and not part of the current discussion).

Oh, look! Helping young people understand the wickedness of ObamaCare apparently involves old white-haired guys giving a talk to groups of young, pretty, nubile females. Hey, man, do you really want a camera in the room? (Oh, okay. I hadn't thought of that.) Big progress, though, for female representation in Fighting Washington. We have three young women listening submissively to an older man (just as God intended).

I know from personal experience that farmers love the Republican Party. It appears to make no sense, but they do. (Something about rugged individualism and subsidies for agribusiness.) Certainly the GOP will not fail to address farm issues during the August recess.

As we all know, women have nothing to do with agriculture. Neither do minorities. They're just no good at it (unless, of course, they're under the supervision of an overseer).

Much of the same is true with energy production. That's an engineering problem, and there's the rub. Women don't like hard hats because they muss their hair. The GOP understands this.

Also, there are no young or minority engineers. Get over it if you don't like it. The Republicans accept reality just the way it is!

Hey! Just one doggone minute here! Where did that picture of award-winning black engineering students from Clarkson come from? (It sure wasn't from Fighting Washington, I'll tell you that much!)

Sorry. We got a little off-topic there. Let's turn instead to the GOP's concerns about fuel and food. According to the GOP play book, the August recess should be used to tour gas stations and grocery stores (with the members acting like they've actually been in those places in recent years and not just during childhood). After making sure that the station owners and grocers “are comfortable with the overall messaging them” (that is, ensuring that these people understand that Obama is evil incarnate and responsible for all their problems), the congressman can stage a series of events where he stops off at each business to decry the horrible things Obama has done for them while the owner nods and/or wrings his hands.

This is yet another occasion where womenfolk are irrelevant. When it comes to grocery shopping or gassing up the car, all you need is a couple of white guys. Message received!

Another good topic is higher education, where you can address major concerns like student loans (and the importance of letting interest rates fall too low), lack of available jobs (because of Obama's destruction of the economy during 2008, before he was president), workforce training (which community colleges should provide more efficiently to compensate for budget cuts imposed by Republican governors), and keeping education affordable (see “student loans” and “workforce training” again).

And what says “higher education” more than a white guy lecturing at a white audience? Nothing, of course! (It is just possible that an Asian or two has slipped into this group, but that's okay because Asians are a good minority. Especially in math class.)

It's not enough to tour through farms, warehouses, gas stations, and schools, of course. You have to get out there among the little people. Like the good, honest folk who work in mom-and-pop outfits in strip malls that GOP policies are putting out of business via tax breaks to more efficient megacorporations with off-shore labor forces (where the miracle of the unfettered free market enable young people to find employment opportunities that would be denied them in the US [at least until they are teenagers]).

For a common touch, wear jeans under your sports coat. Commoners will relate to that. It's not clear that women were required in this picture, but perhaps they do the cleaning up. They seem friendly enough to their oppressor, suggesting that it must be hard cider in those plastic jugs. The wine is probably another reliable sales item in depressed economic sectors.

Republicans hate red tape (except when it comes to regulating abortion clinics), so  naturally Fighting Washington suggests yet another roundtable discussion on government over-regulation. A congressman can wander into a convenient factory and bring production to a total halt while he delivers a sermonette on the importance of efficiency through deregulation. He can demonstrate this by refusing to wear a safety vest while lecturing the employees.

If he lives through the experience, he can then visit a senior citizen center, part of his reliable support base as he promises to protect Social Security and Medicare from his party's policies.

The woman in the picture is just posing. She's got her flag pin on her lapel and is probably an example of the female of the Republican congressional representative species. She's a nice lady and probably won't be pushing the old man down the escalator in the background after the camera goes away. Legislation takes longer, but has fewer fingerprints.

When a GOP member of congress gets tired of going walkabout on these various roundtable tours, he can always cede the heavy lifting to local talk-radio hosts. Most of them are always willing to carry water for the GOP. You can read almost any dreck you like from cue cards cut from the party platform (or Fighting Washington!) and they'll run with it. They already feed their listeners several hours every day of right-wing cant. Rest assured that they know your talking points even better than you do!

This photo depicts a model talk-radio station. See the man's arm in the lower-left corner? He's undoubtedly the guy who has the cut-off switch in case the female host is having her time of month and goes off the reservation.

Broadcast media are dominant these days, but it's important not to neglect the surviving print media, which can be important in certain key demographics (like the old people who subscribe so they can keep up with Peanuts). Remember that op-ed stuff. You can get newspapers to run articles that align with your interest if you schmooze sufficiently ingratiatingly with the paper's editorial board.

As shown in the picture, modern editorial boards are made up exclusively of old white guys. These people are the GOP's core constituency and hardly even need an excuse to pitch their stories the way the local congressman would like.

Townhall meetings are lot like roundtables and all the previous tips and rules apply. Don't forget to salt the audience with shills who have the questions you'd prefer to answer. Get free media from your minions inside talk radio and newspaper editorial boards. Then you're on solid ground.

If you're a member of congress who wants to impress people at a townhall meeting, don't leave your visual aids immobile on an easel. Wave them around. That makes it harder to read anything that they can reconsider later, but people will remember your passion. Also, if you have an assistant with a semi-dark complexion, tell people he's of Indian descent (like Bobby Jindal!) and not Mexican (which will make people think he's illegal, or at least his parents were). Call him “Raj” or “Apu.” These are media-tested acceptable exotic names and will make your audience give themselves credit for their fake open-mindedness.

Republican candidates who learn the lessons of Blighting—I mean, Fighting Washington can be certain to reap the votes of their palest and most gullible constituents. Their success will continue until the dwindling supply of such constituents reaches a certain critical level. Fighting Washington is Exhibit A in the argument that the Republican establishment thinks that critical level is many cycles away.

Please prove them wrong in 2014.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cheerfully innumerate

Happily ignorant

I'm sure we all remember in Season 17 when Marge Simpson expressed to Lisa her regrets about blowing off the calculus final in order to party with her boyfriend Homer: “Since then, I haven't been able to do any of the calculus I've encountered in my daily life.” Ah, yes. Thus do our mistakes return to haunt us, and—as we all know, a working knowledge of calculus is crucial for success as a homemaker.

The obvious basis for the humor is the effective disjunction between calculus and housekeeping. The more subtle reason is perhaps more significant: a sense of relief in the viewer. “Ha, ha! Thank goodness it doesn't really matter that I didn't learn any of that useless stuff!” It salves their guilty consciences over their collegiate screw-ups and omissions. “Math! Who needs it? Only nerds! (And I'm not one. Hurray!)”

 Brian O'Neill seized the opportunity to write a semi-humorous article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after discovering that Google's Laszlo Bock found no significant connection between college grades and job qualifications. He cites Bock as saying in a New York Times interview that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless.”

What? Algebra grades don't predict job performance? Grades in English composition don't correlate with corporate success? Shocking!

And why should they? I concede that the classroom is an artificial environment that does not in general (and is not intended to) emulate future work experience. The integration of the knowledge you acquire in the classroom is a separate skill, as is the selection of the right tools for doing a particular job. Why are heads exploding (or pretending to explode) over these “revelations”? People don't begin entry-level jobs with all of their skills and knowledge pre-melded into a unitary capability. Who knew?

A degree really signifies that you are able to achieve a goal, which is why many companies care more about your persistence in achievement than they are in the grade point average you attained. This, however, is the point at which people bewail the math classes that prevent attainment of a degree: “I can't do the math required for a college degree, so math shouldn't be required.” But college degrees are a sign of a range of qualitative and quantitative skills, so this argument suggests a watered-down college degree is okay. Should it have an asterisk on it? Should it be labeled “college degree lite”. Does everyone deserve a college degree even if he or she is illiterate or innumerate? Note how readily the argument generalizes:

“I can't do the _____ required for a college degree, so _____ shouldn't be required.”

Student success would soar! And student job options would correspondingly shrink.

Oh, but Google says academic success doesn't correlate with occupational success. Please pause to consider that Bock was describing what they discovered in the people they hired. Go ahead and visit Google's job opportunity site. They need account managers and executives more than anything else (at least during this summer of 2013). Minimum qualifications? Looking at today's listings in order, I see BA/BS (MBA preferred), BA/BS, Bachelor's (MBA preferred), BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS (and that's just page one). You get the idea.

Shall we do what Google says and ignore college attainments, or as Google does? While Google may not ask for GPAs and specific college majors, it still wants to know you can complete a certain level of education. If you can't, they're less interested in you (although they will in some instances accept “4 years relevant work experience” in lieu of the bachelor's).

Students without math skills may nevertheless thrive in the many occupations that minimize the need for numeracy, but those students dramatically constrict their options and straiten the path to success. And it's too late to have Euclid himself as an instructor: “Give him a coin, since he must profit from what he learns.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pavlov's button

Try pressing harder!

There is a big intersection near the post office in my town. It has multiple lanes, including turn lanes, and stop lights and crosswalks and buttons for pedestrians to press when they want to cross. Yesterday I was stopped at the light, waiting for it to turn. Two teenage girls on roller skates were on my right, fidgeting as they waited to use the crosswalk in front of me. The blonde was pumping the crosswalk button. If one press is good, won't a dozen presses be better?

Having done her duty, the blonde shuffled on her skates while keeping a keen eye on the Walk/Don't Walk sign. Just to be safe, however, the brunette scooted over and pressed the button several more times, presumably in case her blonde friend had not done it correctly. It was a busy intersection that morning and they were not getting instant gratification, so the blonde skated around the light pole and mashed the button again a few more times, pumping it with great vigor.

At last the lights changed, but it was to allow a pair of turn lanes to empty out and the Walk sign did not light up. The blonde's mouth opened in astonishment and she reacted as if she had been slapped in the face. Outrage! And banged the button a dozen times, pumping it in a fury.

The turn lanes emptied, the lights changed, and the girls were at last given the green light to skate across the crosswalk. Their mission was evidently only half accomplished, because they had wanted to reach the diagonally opposite corner and had one more crosswalk to navigate. Hence they began to take turns assaulting another crosswalk button.

They must be a barrel of fun in elevator lobbies.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Familiarity breeds contempt

No love for Sister Sarah

Townhall.com has sponsored one of those irritating pop-up polls that haunt the Internet. I normally ignore such things. My pop-up blocker catches most of them, but this one slipped through. (Okay, I confess! I asked for it. Townhall sneakily embedded it in a Facebook ad and I clicked on it.)

The question was very simple and probably easy to answer for 99% of the population. It asked the weighty question, “Should Sarah Palin run for Senate? She's considering it.” Since “Hell, no!” and “Only for the entertainment value” were not provided as response choices, I settled for “No, her time has passed.” The alternative was “Yes would love to see her back in elected office,” which seemed too subtle in its irony.

After voting, I got to see the results. Over two-thirds of the respondents wanted Sarah to run (but there was no way to determine how many of those respondents were mentally appending “and lose” to their answers). This is not a surprising result from a crowd of people willing to follow a link provided by Townhall.com. (Of course, Sarah might lose interest if she discovers that a Senate term is six years long.)

The responses were broken down by state. I looked at them one by one. Idaho was the most eager to see Palin on the Alaska ballot for U.S. Senate. No big surprise. I moused around until I found the state most opposed to a Palin candidacy. (You're ahead of me, right?)

It was Alaska. The state that knows Palin best expressed itself with 55% in her favor and a record 43% opposed. No other state broke out of the thirties in its opposition to the half-term governor. And don't forget that this is a Townhall crowd. I was not surprised. You weren't either, were you?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Restoring the Voting Rights Act

What happens next (or should)

The Supreme Court wobbles from side to side in its rulings, notoriously gutting the Voting Rights Act the day before it similarly eviscerated the Defense of Marriage Act. Apparently ensuring that people get to vote is unimportant while expanding the right to marry is all right. Go figure.

Chief Justice Roberts did, of course, offer a rationale for tearing the guts out of the VRA: Things are better now, so we can shut the door on intervention against vote suppression. Also, the VRA is inherently discriminatory because it singles out certain regions for heightened scrutiny.

Actually, I am nearly on board with that last item. The regional rationale for the VRA is old and certainly in need of reexamination. As Roberts phrased it, “40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.” Unfortunately, Roberts and the court majority saw fit to simply strike down Sec. 4 of the VRA and set free the regions required to obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice before implementing changes in voting laws or procedures. The congress, the court blithely said, “may draft another formula based on current conditions.”

The congress. Right. And how much longer will it be before congress recovers sufficiently from its Tea Party dysfunction and begins to act like a legislative body again? The court's action and the congress's certain inaction have opened the way to the vigorous pursuit of partisan voter suppression, the current favorite hobby of Republican-controlled states. Texas and Mississippi didn't even pause for breath in the wake of the VRA decision before announcing the implementation of draconian new measures that had been previously blocked.

Now is the time for Democrats and democrats to respond vigorously to the Supreme Court action. Otherwise, new voter-suppression rules will seek to disenfranchise enough people so that right-wing rule in the red states and in the House of Representatives will be prolonged well beyond its sell date (which, frankly, must have been somewhere in 2011, a few days after Boehner became speaker).

I see a response with two major features.

Harness voter anger

Remember how Republican governors conspired with Republican legislatures to reduce early-voting hours, consolidate minority precincts, and impose voter ID requirements? While the GOP pretended to be fighting voter fraud (without ever managing to document anything significant—unless you examined their own activities), a few Republicans occasionally forgot the cover story and let the truth slip out; for example, Mike Turzai: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done!”

The Pennsylvania law was largely blocked for the November 2012 vote and Obama beat Romney by 5.38 percentage points, or 309,840 votes. The ID law would have had to discourage approximately 310,000 Obama voters (and no Romney voters) in order to flip the result. So close!

But several voter-suppression efforts did take effect, resulting in ridiculously long lines at precincts in minority districts and waiting times of several hours before being able to cast a vote. Why didn't these measures swing a few more states in Romney's column, he being the intended beneficiary of reduced vote totals?

The answer may be relatively simple. The voter-suppression efforts were so blatantly partisan and so clearly aimed at minority voters that people got angry. No one was going to deprive them of the right to cast their ballots, so they endured the miserable delays and cast their votes as acts of defiance.

In the 2014 midterm elections, the Democratic Party should not, however, rely on anti-GOP resentment to pump up the ranks of stubborn voters. With Section 4 of the VRA struck down, many more blockades will be put in place in the Republican states. Hence the Democratic Party and Obama's Organizing for America operation need to put into high gear a broad-based voter-assistance effort that aids voters in clearing the hurdles in their way. Help them obtain personal photo IDs in those states that require them, being aware of those states where the “acceptable” IDs are strictly and narrowly defined. Provide support in insufficiently equipped precincts where Republican election officials “forget” to provide enough voting stations. Roll up support vans with food and water and folding chairs (and chemical toilets?) to help people during multi-hour vigils in long lines.

And, of course, teams of lawyers to obtain court orders and injunctions wherever necessary to mitigate the most blatant abuses. The traditional “get out the vote” efforts must be expanded by a full magnitude if it is going to trample down the GOP-imposed barriers to democratic action. This is war, baby.

Accept the Supreme Court's invitation

Yes, the House of Representatives is singularly dysfunctional and the filibuster-hobbled Senate isn't much better. Nevertheless, Democrats in both houses should introduce measures to address the demise of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. After all, the chief justice specifically invited congress to speak to the matter.

The brand-new standard should be simple and relatively easy to explain. That way Republican naysayers will be more easily exposed as the anti-voting thugs they are. Since statistical measures would inevitably be involved (and people are often put off by such arcana), keeping it simple and explainable would be a challenge, but it must be met. I suggest a modest approach along the following lines:

Use census data and voting data to create two profiles for each state and compare the profiles. Compute the difference between the profiles by means of a simple calculation, perhaps something like the sum of the squares of the differences between corresponding demographic segments. For example, suppose that a state's population breaks into four groups: 60% is A, 20% is B, 14% is C, and 6% is D. However, voting data indicates that the voting profile was 80% A, 12% B, 4% C, and 4% D. The metric based on summed square differences would be

(60 − 80)2 + (20 − 12)2 + (14 − 4)2 + (6 − 4)2 = 568.

Is this a shockingly bad result? Let's not worry about it, because there is no need to decide in advance. Instead finish computing the metric for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia (or any city or county or other electoral entity under scrutiny; see the examples in the margin). Now the states can be ranked in order of accumulated differences between population demographics and voting demographics. The scores will be big for states with disproportionate discrepancies and small for those where differences are close to zero. Designate the top quartile (12 or 13 states) as preclearance regions. They could be anywhere in the country, without singling out the South. The playing field is level. The legislation could select a break point so that no state achieving that level of voter participation would be subjected to preclearance just because it's in the top dozen. (If a large majority of the states are doing well, some states with small metric numbers would start slipping into that dirty dozen without deserving it.)

I'm sure that sophisticated statisticians could happily argue about more suitable metrics, but I tossed this out as merely an example that could work and is simple to compute. As long as comparable data are used for the various states, the results would be sufficiently comparable to rank the states in order of voting conformity with actual state demographics, highlighting those states where certain demographics get disproportionately represented or suppressed.

Will congress adopt any measure like this to restore the VRA? Probably not. But who will the obstructionists be? Make them stand up and be counted. Flush them out and expose them to the light. Let the irritated voters know exactly who it is that does not want them to cast ballots.

Get working, folks. Voter suppression is real and the response needs to begin yesterday if we're going to be ready for the challenging landscape of 2014. Don't be content to rely on the self-destructive tendencies of the nutcases running the Republican Party. They can do a lot of damage if we're not ready to rein them in!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Love and marriage

What happens next

Today's rulings from the Supreme Court were surprisingly good, although the decision on Proposition 8 was a cowardly punt rather than a straightforward striking down. Coupled, however, with the decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, the ruling against Proposition 8 means that California becomes a rich source of foot soldiers against the narrow definition of marriage. I may not be a lawyer, but I can read the writing on the wall.

DOMA is gone, so the federal government can no longer discriminate against duly married same-sex couples. The federal government can hardly attempt to deny marriage recognition to couple who marry in one state and then move to another. As long as the marriage is solemnized in a state (or D.C.) where same-sex marriage is legal, the same-sex couple's rights have to be recognized as portable. Could even an extreme ideologue like Justice Scalia argue that the couple's rights switch on and off, depending on the state in which they reside?

No one needs a crystal ball to see what happens next. Same-sex marriage will gradually permeate all fifty states. It cannot be avoided in our mobile society. Same-sex couples in states with anti-gay legislation on the books will schedule wedding vacations in California or other states that support same-sex marriages. There will be an economic boomlet in gay-friendly states as florists and wedding planners and honeymoon locations are showered with rainbow-striped dollars. Legislators who understand revenue better than human rights will be tempted to stanch the out-flow by repealing their bans on same-sex weddings.

The most pessimistic in the anti-gay ranks are correct: Same-sex marriage has the force of history behind it and their struggle to keep prejudice enshrined in law is doomed. Let all people of good will celebrate.

Friday, June 21, 2013

It ain't necessarily so

Miraculous logic

Everyone keeps waiting for the Supreme Court to unburden itself of its ruling on California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in 2008. Trembling with trepidation that their labors will have been for naught, the Catholic clergy and laymen who struggled so hard on Proposition 8's behalf have been sharing their fears via print and broadcast media.

On Sunday, June 16, the San Francisco Chronicle published Joe Garofoli's interview with Salvatore Cordileone, the current archbishop of the San Francisco diocese. According to the article, Cordileone struck an alliance with evangelical Protestants and the Mormon Church to promote Proposition 8, with the archbishop digging up $1.5 million to support the effort. That's a lot of collection baskets! (I'm guessing that most of that money came from sources other than the members of his local congregations. San Francisco is not a happy hunting ground for anti-gay contributions, even among its Catholics.)

The Catholic hierarchy appears to be stuck on the campaign theme that worked so well in the 2008 campaign, which I heard directly from my mother's mouth when she explained why she had to vote for Proposition 8: “It's to protect the children!” This was indeed Cordileone's theme as he pitched his position to the Chronicle reporter:
With piercing blue eyes and a propensity for speaking in complete sentences, Cordileone explains that his view of marriage is based on how he believes it affects children.

Legalizing gay marriage, he said, “would result in the law teaching that children do not need an institution that connects them” to their biological parents and their parents to each other.

“Too many children are being hurt by our culture's strange and increasing inability to appreciate how important it is to bring together mothers and fathers for children in one loving home,” he said.
Let that sink in for a minute. His Excellency the archbishop is arguing that permitting same-sex couples to wed would undermine the connection between children and their parents. Even more than that, it would “teach” children that they really don't need those connections.

Is Cordileone an idiot? Or just a liar? (Can't it be both?) The archbishop is laying down a thick layer of illogical crap, and he does it as smoothly as can be. Allowing same-sex couples to wed says nothing to anyone about the parental needs of children. It would do nothing to prevent opposite-sex couples to wed and instantiate the conventional ideal of the nuclear family. Gay marriage would merely (merely!) extend marriage rights to people who are currently denied them. Wouldn't Cordileone's supposedly pro-kid mission be better accomplished with a campaign to require mothers to marry the fathers of their children? That would connect them up, all right! He might even be able to get the Mormons on board with that, since it would necessitate a return to plural marriage. But it's for the children!

As I mentioned, this “think of the children!” blather appears to be the Church's official line on the horrors of same-sex marriage. On Monday, June 17, Immaculate Heart Radio broadcast an installment of “The Bishop's Radio Hour”, during which host Bob Dunning interviewed William B. May, the president of Catholics for the Common Good. Bill May was relentless in the repetition of his mantra, which decried the possible “elimination of the only institution that unites kids with moms and dads.” Yes, he really said this. Elimination!
On the marriage issue, we have to start asking people that question. Okay, you're for redefining marriage. That eliminates the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads. How can you justify that? If you're proposing to do that you need to address that problem. How are we going to promote men and women marrying before having children if it becomes illegal to do so?
Illegal! This short excerpt cannot do justice to May's mindless repetition of his “elimination” claim. In a short ten-minute block of time, he repeated the absurdity five or six times (I can't be sure because the on-line archive clipped the final minute of the interview). Interviewer Bob Dunning, who is a legitimate newsman and reporter for all that he views the world through Vatican-tinted glasses, embarrassingly mumbled agreement with his guest throughout the entire segment. However, at one point Dunning offered an extremely pertinent observation that May had carefully avoided mentioning:
May: The voters of California have spoken clearly on this twice. There's no doubt where they stand.

Dunning: It tends to be an age demographic; that's what we're fighting.
Bob has it right. Time is not on your side, Bill. In 2000, California voters enacted marriage-defining Proposition 22 with the support of 61.4% of those casting ballots. In 2008, they added the one-man/one-woman definition to the state constitution when 52.5% of the voters supported Proposition 8. A simple straight-line projection shows that the “traditional marriage” gang loses more than one percentage point each year. By this measure, the projection for 2013 is 46.9% in favor of Proposition 8 and similar measures. The reality, however, is even worse for Cordileone and his allies. According to recent a Los Angeles Times poll, same-sex marriage opposition has fallen to 36%. Support has risen to 58%. Suck on that, Your Excellency.

Dunning sees the writing on the wall and is worried that quashing the tide in favor of same-sex marriage is a now-or-never crisis.

Here's a hint: it won't be “now.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scott Adams changes his tune?

Another victim of the matriarchy

It was clever of Scott Adams to include his e-mail address in his Dilbert comic strip. The readers are a constant source of grist for the cartoonist's mill, enabling Adams to demonstrate the existence of endless variations on the theme of corporate mis-, mal-, and nonfeasance. I long expected Dilbert to grow stale over the years, but I've been pleased to discover how well it has held up. I make a point of reading it every day.

Last week I picked up a copy of Your New Job Title is “Accomplice,” the latest in an endless stream of Dilbert compilations. Since I'm the kind of guy who always peruses the front matter, I took a minute to skim over the cartoonist's introduction. It contained a passage that took me by surprise:
Eventually, corporate America excreted me. My bosses explained that I was unqualified for any sort of promotion because I had boring DNA and a scrotum. That's a true story, by the way. Reverse discrimination was a big thing in California in the nineties. And for what it's worth, that was not the first time my scrotum had caused me trouble.
This seemed a slight departure from Adams's previous accounts of his departure from Pacific Bell. Consider, for example, what he told Inc. in 1996, a mere year after he received his walking papers:
I'd told all of my bosses I would resign if they ever felt my costs exceeded my benefits. One of the benefits, of course, was the positive PR. I get interviewed often. Anyway, in the spring of 1995 I got a new boss, and I reiterated my offer to resign if asked. A few weeks later he asked. The reason given was budget constraints. I'm pretty sure it was a local management decision, not one from the top.
Adams gives no hint that he was cashiered because of genital deficiencies. Perhaps he was concealing the sexist policies that forced him out of corporate America and now feels that masculine empowerment has freed him to tell the whole truth. I rather doubt that. He has never been too tongue-tied to express himself on such matters in the past. Adams infamously compared women who espouse equal pay for equal work to children who beg for candy. His credentials as a men's rights advocate seem bright and shiny, buffed to a high and slightly belligerent gloss.

I noted in particular the claim that California was a hotbed of women versus men “reverse discrimination” in the 1990s. From my own perspective and recollection, it seems to me that Adams's claim is untrue. In the decade of the nineties I was in the midst of academia, the unapologetic ground zero of diversity and unashamed “political correctness.” Our college president during that period was (gasp!) a woman. She presided over the hiring of six tenure-track faculty members for the mathematics department. Four of them were men. She was doing a remarkably poor job of oppressing the guys.

Proof by anecdote!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bill Priest revisited

The other side of the coin

In my recent post on Bill J. Priest and the creation of the Dallas County Community College District, I commented that the biography by Kathleen Krebbs Whitson is a “hagiography,” that is, an account of the life of a saint. According to Whitson's book, the never-wrong Priest was often betrayed by incompetence and intransigence—always in others. For example, here is her report on Priest's travails in his pre-Dallas post as founding president of American River Junior College in Sacramento in 1955:
Priest was hired as the Superintendent/President of the new college. He had the arduous task of not only beginning a new college, but also absorbing an existing college, Grant Technical College, into the new organizational structure. Grant Technical College had actually been the top two years of a kindergarten through fourteenth grade school in the local public school district. The faculty of the college levels, however, had tenure. That was the first hurdle. The new college being founded would not have tenure for the faculty. This was one of the first conflicts. The established faculty felt they should be grandfathered [with tenure] in the non-tenure for faculty policy. They sued and won. Now Priest was faced with a faculty in which some had tenure and some did not. Many of the former faculty of Grant Technical College felt that none of the new rules should apply to them. This perpetual problem more than doubled the efforts of establishing a new college.
Certainly Priest's task would have been greatly eased if only the tenured faculty of Grant Technical has simply rolled over and allowed him to strip them of their job security. What ingrates they were, failing to appreciate the great man's effort to reduce them to at-will employees!

Whitson's coda to Priest's ordeal in assimilating Grant Technical has this interesting twist:
There were continual lawsuits and the attorney was less than competent. He lost nine cases out of nine. Fortunately the Board of Trustees gave full support to Priest in the challenges he faced. In Priest's estimation, they were a quality board with a focus on the educational good for students.
Poor Priest! Saddled with a “less than competent” lawyer. (Who hired this lawyer, anyway? Did the president have no role in staffing the new college district?)

It's easy to offer a different take on this report. Was the attorney incompetent or was Priest pushing too hard against the rights of his faculty members and simply getting rebuffed by the courts? I'm curious to know more about what these nine lawsuits entailed.

By the way, the colleges of the Dallas County Community College District have tenured faculty in addition to part-time and temporary faculty, so it appears that Priest was unable to create an at-will system of faculty employment in right-to-work Texas. Furthermore, the two-tier system that was created at American River Junior College (now just American River College) went away as tenured faculty became the rule rather than the exception at the Sacramento institution. Neither in California nor in Texas was Bill J. Priest successful in establishing himself as an unfettered benevolent dictator. His accomplishments notwithstanding, Priest belongs to the patronizing era of father-knows-best. No doubt the great man would be aghast at the shared-governance practice that emerged in his wake.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

One thing Texas does right

Although Perry can't count to three

The seven-college Dallas County Community College District is one of the biggest post-secondary education institutions in the world. The legendary Bill J. Priest was present at the creation in 1965, serving as DCCCD's first president. His starting salary was $35,000, more than the governor of Texas. According to Bill Jason Priest: Community College Pioneer, a hagiography by Kathleen Krebbs Whitson, “an editorial appeared in one of the major daily newspapers in Dallas extolling the integrity of the Dallas County Junior College Board for being willing to spend the money to bring in the very best leadership for the new junior college system.”

That information piqued my curiosity, so I looked up the current salaries of the DCCCD chief executive (a “chancellor” now instead of a “president”) and the Texas governor. It turns out that Chancellor Wright Lassiter earns $271,126 and Governor Rick Perry gets $150,000 (I didn't feel right using “earns” again). Good for Texas! Educators are still out-pointing politicians.

Priest enjoyed twitting his former colleagues back in California about the support for education that he was finding in Texas. “You're working in the wrong place,” he told them. Of course, not everything about Texas was to Priest's liking, but he deftly took care of that with some judicious prevarication. His extremely generous biographer deftly soft-pedals the deception:
Texas was a new experience for him. He knew Texas culture by reputation only. He had never lived in any part of the Bible Belt before. It was an anomaly to him that as a routine part of the get acquainted conversation came the question, “What church do you go to?” He soon discovered that agnosticism was equated with atheism in the Dallas area. In his mind, agnostic meant he believed in a supreme being and that the universe was far too complicated a creation for there not to be a God over all. His negative experiences with fanaticism and those taking advantage of others in the name of organized religion caused him to disassociate with formal denominations that seemingly gave human characteristics to God. This explanation was far too complex to explore in casual chit chat. Since he had been reared in the home of his grandfather, an elder in the First Christian Church, Priest had attended those services with him. Based on that history, First Christian became his answer.
One might have expected a better definition of agnosticism from an educator, as well as less willingness to lie to his new neighbors, but Priest appears to have been undisturbed by it. I guess that's just what a person has to do to survive in Texas.