Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Confederate pseudohistory

The flag game

The most vigorous defenders of the flag always bring up “heritage” and “Southern pride.” They cite the bravery of fallen ancestors, whom they imagine fighting till their last breath and last drop of blood for states' rights beneath the waving Confederate flag. Ah, but which flag? Ironically, many of those revered rebels probably never even saw the flag that their descendants regard as sacred to their memory. Unless they were part of General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which used the infamous banner as its battle flag, Confederate soldiers went to war under other colors—including even Lee's troops.

The official flag of the Confederate States of America was the Stars and Bars, first adopted and flown in the CSA's provisional capital city of Montgomery, Alabama. Its resemblance to the USA's Old Glory made its use in battle problematic, insufficiently distinguishing the two sides. The Stars and Bars acquired additional stars as the CSA incorporated (or pretended to incorporate) more renegade states and remained the Confederacy's official banner till it was set aside in 1863 in favor of a new design.

The so-called “Stainless Banner” was characterized by a now-familiar image embedded in a field of white. The white was described by the flag's designer as representing “the cause of a superior race.” Now a different problem arose. The generous use of white made the Stainless Banner appear in some circumstances to be a white flag of surrender. It was back to the drawing boards one more time, resulting in the third and final iteration of the CSA's national banner in 1865.

The “Blood-Stained Banner” never had a chance. Although the addition of a broad red stripe mitigated the problem of confusion with a flag of surrender, surrender was, in fact, at hand. The final CSA flag was adopted in March 1865 and General Lee conceded to General Grant in April. Most Confederate soldiers never saw the new national flag, which was defunct with the defeat and dissolution of the CSA.

Both the Stainless and Blood-Stained CSA banners featured a canton displaying the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which had adopted the starred saltire cross in late 1861 in preference to the confusing Stars and Bars. Despite the battle flag's role as the banner under which General Lee surrendered, it had a vigorous post-war life. Decades after the war was over, the battle flag (often in rectangular rather than square form) was favored as the official emblem of various associations of Civil War veterans in the South. It outlasted the official flags in its identification with the Confederacy and its Lost Cause.

Later the battle flag found favor with the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations that promoted “white power” and suppression of the civil rights of black citizens. It can hardly be mere coincidence that Georgia chose to revive the battle flag and incorporate it in its state banner in resistance to the desegregation mandate of 1954's Brown v. Board of Education.  (The illustration depicts the change enacted in Georgia's flag in 1956.)

The racist component of Southern heritage was there at the outset, as detailed in the constitution of the seceding states and the declarations of the Confederacy's officers, but it was compounded and exacerbated by the era of Jim Crow and the South's segregationist state governments. The Confederate battle flag can no more be purged of that association than the swastika of Germany's National Socialist Party can be restored to its pre-Nazi status.

It's time for the battle flag to fade away, the sooner the better.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The buzzing B

And nonplussed

The end of each semester is a time for reflection and renewal. The school term is over, the new term has yet to begin, and the days are free for contemplation, consideration, and ... complaining students. You can always count on the student who learned the “squeaky wheel” adage better than he learned the subject matter. He imagines that his grade is negotiable and fails to note that no negotiating is actually occurring. It can take weeks for the spate of wheedling communiqu├ęs to peter out.
If ever there was a time to consider a grading scheme where if the majority of your exams are A's including the final you get an A. My dad said he got a math teacher to bump him up a grade by doing a card trick.  Are you game?
Family legends and Rudyard Kipling notwithstanding (“If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss”), skill at sleight of hand does not translate into grade points in my class. Sorry about that. He moved on to plan B:
My grandmother would give an A if you got an A on the final but maybe she gave harder finals or something.  
Not to criticize the young man's sainted grandmother, with whom I should never be confused, the old girl was offering her students the ancient “sucker bet” routine. I've seen it often enough before. It's deadly.

When an instructor tells a class at the beginning of the semester that grades will be based on either an overall average or the final exam score, whichever is best, a significant minority of the students immediately falls into the trap: I just need to do well on the final. That'll be enough! Of course it never is. Most such students begin slacking off in that class in order to concentrate on other courses or activities. More immediate concerns take over because I just need to do well on the final. They dig the hole deep, taking comfort in the thought that a single Olympian jump at the end will permit them to escape their subterranean situation, even as they neglect the exercises that would make the feat feasible (and, more to the point, unnecessary, because they would be earning the points that would put them into a position to pass without a miraculously redemptive performance on the final exam).

I never offer my students the sucker bet. My student was undeterred.
Just curious now; did anyone else get two A's on exams and an A on the final and still not get an A?  Is there anyone I can commiserate with or is this an anomaly?
Although misery may love company, privacy considerations intervened. I answered him:
Yes, there were two other students, so it wasn’t exactly an anomaly. It was a matter of getting relatively low A’s that were counterbalanced by lower grades, preventing the composite score from being in the A range. You’d be welcome to commiserate with them, but privacy concerns forbid me from sharing their names. —Z
My student kept harping on his “majority” argument and insisted on ignoring the relative strength of his scores. The semester grade was a weighted average of six scores: one for homework and quizzes, four chapter tests, and one final exam. The composite score was computed thus:

Comp = 0.15*HQ + 0.70*E_average + 0.15*Final

My diligent correspondent had a low A for HQ, a high C for E_average, and a low A for Final. His Comp result was 83.4. That's not A territory. Interestingly, he kept his focus on the exams and ignored the HQ result. Thus his argument was, in effect, three A's on five exams should work out to an A in the class. But here are the exam scores:

Exam 1: 90, Exam 2: 80, Exam 3: 95, Exam 4: 54, Final: 92

That's right: He outright flunked Exam 4. It's really tough to be an A student when you flunk an exam, especially that severely. This never figured into his arguments, for obvious reasons. He fussed over the weights. The final wasn't worth enough! Sorry, but short of going the “sucker bet” route it could hardly ever be worth enough to suit his purposes. Besides, I had already sweetened the pot by building some bonus points into the final exam's grading scheme, giving a perfect paper a value of 105 instead of a mere 100. In reality, his 92 on the final was 87.6%. I had already cut everyone as much slack as I intended to.

He had one more card up his sleeve:
Is there nothing that can be done... a test I can take to challenge?
Lord have mercy! Can you imagine? I tried to be nice:
No, there isn’t anything. If you think about it a little bit, you’ll realize for yourself there couldn’t be any after-the-fact exam that students could take to tweak their grades. Otherwise the college would spend the first several weeks of summer vacation giving the special exams to students who were unsatisfied with the outcome of the semester. Six of your classmates who earned B’s did better than you; ten did more poorly. You earned an unambiguous mid-range B in the class, a good solid grade. —Z
It did not satisfy him. I received one more lengthy message in which he noted his regular attendance, active participation, his “majority” of A's, and his work ethic. “It seems that for one reason or another, I end up coming up short somehow.”

The main reason, as best as I can tell, is that you're a B student whose grades range across the spectrum from A to F. It's not mysterious.
I'm sure you're tired of this by now.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A balmy in Gilead

My modest proposal

When it comes to irrational right-wing extremism, Joseph Farah lives in a surreal bubble of his own special brand of derangement. He is the founder of WorldNetDaily, a Web-based journal almost impossible not to cite as WorldNutDaily. WND serves up regular heaping helpings of paranoia, propaganda, and crackpottery.

Farah has been wringing his hands over the fate of traditional biblical marriage. (Please note: “Traditional” marriage means the one-man/one-woman definition from the Bible exemplified by Adam and Eve—and not the one-man/two-women example of Jacob with Leah and Rachel nor the one-man/seven-hundred-wives/three-hundred-concubines example of good old King Solomon.) In his WND column of June 3, 2015, Farah proposes secession from the United States if the Supreme Court allows same-sex marriage throughout the nation.
Is there one state in 50 that would not only defy the coming abomination, but secede in response? The rewards could be great. I would certainly consider relocating. How about you?

The founders of this country found a place of refuge in America and shaped it into the greatest self-governing nation in the history of world. Just think what one state could do if it simply stuck to the principles that made this country great? Americans wouldn’t have to cross an ocean to rediscover what brought most of our ancestors here. We could simply drive.

Are any states so inclined?

I haven’t heard this question raised by anyone else. So I’m raising it now. We don’t have much time before the nine high priests in black robes decide to follow Baal instead of the One True God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Okay, that mention of Jacob is a trifle unfortunate, but at least his wives were of the opposite sex.

Farah calls his proposal an “Exodus strategy.” Commenters on sites like Crooks & Liars have been quick to suggest that Texas is the state that should secede (or be thrown out) to serve as a haven for Farah and his followers. I think this is much too generous. Abandon Austin? Dump Dallas? Leave Houston high and dry? (Actually, I guess they might appreciate that right about now.)

I have a counter-proposal. Let Farah and his crazies colonize the Texas panhandle. Let's carve out a nice rectangular space for an independent nation named Gilead. (There's a nice literary reference for you.) Amarillo and Lubbock would probably fit in just fine. While saner people might flee to the greater portion that remains as Texas, there should be plenty of opportunities to obtain good deals on the residences left behind by the flight of Farah's adherents (especially in Plano). A plebiscite could determine whether Oklahoma's panhandle should be included for good measure. (Those who think Panhandler would make a good name for this new nation should take into account that the imbalance between taxes paid and federal dollars received would no longer be an issue—unless the new nation demands a lot of foreign aid from the US, in which case Panhandler might be exactly right.)

There are other aspects to this win-win situation: (1) Texas goes blue more quickly. (2) Jobs are created in the border patrol and border-crossing stations will have to be constructed. (This would be true in New Mexico and Oklahoma, as well as in the new Texas. Possibly in Colorado and Kansas, too.) (3) Other parts of the United States would improve as their nutcases emigrated to Gilead. (4) Ted Cruz would lose his political base (unless he moves to the new country to become its Priest-King).

I'm not certain what would support the economy of Gilead, though it's likely that Lubbock's cotton industry and Amarillo's meat-packing would remain mainstays. However, opportunities to promote tourism might be sketchy. Would Americans be eager to visit a nation based on a Christian version of sharia law?

Thursday, June 04, 2015

How the crazy works

Capitalism in Bizarro world

Last month I briefly indulged my nasty habit of scanning the AM radio dial. As usual, the cesspit that is KSFO served up a memorable dollop of right-wing nonsense. The old stalwarts are gone now—Lee Rodgers to eternal silence and Melanie Morgan to the scandal-tainted Move America Forward—but Brian Sussman and Katie Green are doing their best to maintain the morning program's standard of irrational extremism.

Sussman, a weather man who thinks himself competent to pretend to be a climatologist, has apparently fixated on Hillary Clinton the way Cato was obsessed with Carthage. Although I suspect he will be disappointed with the eventual outcome, his overreach inspires a kind of head-shaking awe. Making money is usually honored by the KSFO tribe, but Sussman was willing to make an exception for Clinton's success. When Hillary makes money, it's evil and corrupt (two words you'll never hear Sussman use while discussing the excesses of the banking industry).

In this particular instance, Sussman was offended that Clinton commands top dollar for her speaking engagements:
Sussman: Hillary Clinton. Remember when she addressed the eBay summit? And we had asked this question: what did she make for this 20-minute talk? We literally asked the question. And now we find out: 315,000 dollars from eBay! Katie, that's your money and my money—because we use eBay.

Katie Green: Yeah, it is.
Welcome to the new KSFO theory of capitalism. Since Sussman is a customer of eBay, he shares ownership of the company's money. Sorry, Brian. When you patronize a company, your dollars become theirs, to do with as they please. Even if that means bringing in a nationally-known speaker to amp up attendance at one of their conferences. Your permission is not required.

I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for a correction or clarification. That would be fatal.