WATER LEVEL

Posted in Rants on September 17th, 2014 by Ed

The first time one teaches a college class comes with no meaningful preparation. In most graduate programs there is a one-semester lip service course on pedagogy that ostensibly exists to teach teaching; in reality it is the graduate version of a blow-off course and it mostly imparts crucial lessons like "Don't fuck the students" and "Make a syllabus." To say the least, teaching (as the instructor, not as a teaching assistant) for the first time is largely a "jump in an hopefully you'll figure out how to swim" affair. Accordingly the first year or two in the classroom ranges from awful to barely adequate depending on one's natural abilities. The learning curve is steep.

Among the most common mistakes we make at the beginning is creating a course that is far more difficult than the undergraduates expect. We start out naively assuming that undergrads are like we were as undergrads. They're not; we were nerds. We were the 1% of undergraduates who care about the material enough to consider graduate school and a life in academia. The other 99% are somewhere on the continuum between ambivalent and totally uninterested. We expect that the students read the assigned readings (They don't). We expect that they learned certain things in high school (They didn't). We expect that when we tell them something in a lecture, often multiple times, they will remember it (They won't). We expect that they will study for exams and spend more than a few hours on a research paper (Probably not). The preceding may not be true if you are lucky enough to teach at some elite institution. For the vast majority of us, though, the early teaching experiences shock us to accept the reality that many undergraduates had a woeful K-12 education and/or they have very little interest in excelling academically.

So we adjust. We reduce the amount of material we attempt to cover and vary what we do in the classroom until we find what appears to work for the students. We concoct ways to force the students to keep up with the reading. We account for the fact that some freshmen wander into an American government course without knowing that "legislative branch" refers to Congress and that Democrats are more liberal than Republicans. We analyze data on our own exams and assignments and make adjustments where the students haven't done well. We like to think that we improve as teachers and make the class better, and certainly most of us do continually improve. But let us not kid ourselves: compared to our initial teach experiences, we make the classes easier. This is both practical – We don't want to explain why our class of 40 had 33 F's – and necessary, as students deserve a class that is at the appropriate level, which varies greatly by type of school and student population.

Eventually we reach a point at which we can't make the class any easier. More accurately, we won't. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, "The only way I could assign any less reading would be to assign none." Eventually you have to struggle with the question of what is the minimum necessary for something to be called a college course at an institution that attempts to maintain academic standards. You look at the topics covered and decide that nothing else can be pared away while still doing the intended scope of the course justice. You look at the exam questions and assignments and decide that you simply can't make them any easier, simpler, or less time consuming. You look at what you present in class and come to the conclusion that this is as basic as it's going to get.

It's an unpleasant moment when you reach that point and find that the students' performance is still not where you would like it to be. The remaining explanations are that the students simply cannot succeed in a true college-level course or that you are a very poor teacher. Personally, I never wanted to find myself rooting for either of those options. And the tendency of the system is to either make excuses for the students and blame everything on the teacher or vice-versa with little middle ground.

This post is not one where the story is resolved at the end. These are questions we never stop asking – what can I do to be better, and if I'm not the problem then what can I do to fix it?

Tags:

PUBLIC OPINION IN REAL AMERICA, FJM STYLE

Posted in Rants on September 15th, 2014 by Ed

Most of my friends live in cities. Real cities. Places where people read books and have hopes and dreams. Little bubbles that seal out most of the things urbanites know to be true about Real America, things from which they want to hide. I am intensely jealous of all of these people, because it has been my experience that most of the things people assume about the Bush Voter parts of America are true. I live among people who wear American flag hats and "These Colors Don't Run" t-shirts unironically. In 2014.

If you ever want to lose your will to live completely, go to the opinion section of the last remaining newspaper in some cow town that has been in decline since the Eisenhower years. The kind of place where the remaining population consists of anyone too old or too poor to leave. Then read the letters to the editor. You may want to have a few drinks first. You sure as hell will by the time you're done.

While FJM Treatment is usually reserved for professional writers – or at least people who have been paid to write things when "professional" seems like a stretch – but I found a fantastic specimen of what life is like out here in the provinces and I want those of you who live in not-horrible places to experience it with me. This is what it's like. This is why we're fucked.

The column is called "A thanks for subsidizing local government we don’t use?" which seems grammatically askew no matter how many times I read it. My first inclination was to file this under Too Stupid to Merit a Response, but I want you all to share my pain. This is what passes for thinking out here.

I recently paid my property tax for this year.

Nothing foreshadows a journey into Glenn Beck's fever dreams like an opening line about property taxes. And there's very little that benefits the public discourse more than white people pissing and moaning about them.

We knew when we moved from California to Illinois that politically, we would be just exchanging one bad state for another.

Leaving only the question of why you would move here, then. Why not move to some kind of low-tax paradise like Mississippi? Brownbackistan? Somalia? From what I hear Somalia has no property taxes at all. Largely on account of Somalis having no property. And the absence of functioning government.

We had been warned about the oppressive tax system in Illinois. It took my breath away as I wrote out that check, but it also got me to thinking about where our hard-earned money was going.

Well since you identified yourself as a "stay-home mom" in the tagline, technically you didn't earn any money. You know. If we're splitting hairs. Also, guys…I can't emphasize enough how pitiful the property taxes are in this burnt out husk of a city. It's the absolute middle of nowhere, every part of the local government is essentially broke, and the school districts are straight out of an NPR story about poverty.

This is what I found.

Under threat of losing our home and property, we were forced to give a ridiculous amount of money to the local government school system that we do not participate in.

Once again: Somalia! No threat of losing your home or property! No taxes! Paradise!

And this is the exciting part. Which way are we going to "do not participate in" – old person with no children or homeschool fanatic? Let this picture of the author guide you as you try to predict the next twist.

face

eyes

Yeah. I think you see where we're going here.

I would like a hearty thank you from those families that contribute little to the education of their own children. Your children are getting a sub-par education on the backs of the elderly and families who privately or home educate their children.

I love this shit. Love it. These doorknobs choose to brainwash their children at home rather than sending them to school and they expect the law to contort itself around their choice. Because that's what it is: a choice. You could send your kids to the schools your taxes pay for, or you can keep them home and teach them that the Earth is 4000 years old and a bunch of other made up crap. Wingnuts love to ask why they should have to pay for everyone else's choices. Well, why does the state have to change the law because of yours?

Oh, right. Because Jesus and freedom and you are an intensely stupid person.

I also found that I am paying a nice sum to the local junior college. Really? No one in our home is currently attending Illinois Central College.

I FOUND OUT THAT MY TAXES GO TO THE FIRE DEPARTMENT, AND NONE OF MY PROPERTY IS EVEN ON FIRE! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT! HIGHWAY ROBBERY!

*picks corn from own feces*

We home educate our children and do not expect nor want the government to pay for our children’s education. It is my responsibility, not the community’s. Again, a thank you would be appreciated. Or better yet, how about some personal responsibility? Give me back my money!

Thank you for choosing to make sure your kids turn out just as stupid as you. They can do things like write idiotic letters to the editor and think they're making good arguments when suggesting that taxes should essentially be voluntary. Let me tell you, that's genius.

For the taxes we pay to keep the library open, I would like smiles on the faces of the librarians. I now feel obligated to go to the library since I’m paying so much to keep it open.

Not to rub it in, but once again, the author's annual income is $0. "You're" not paying jack to keep it open. And this statement might be the most explicit and best example of the incredibly inflated sense of self-importance of the teabagging crowd. They're like adult-sized infants. Me, me, me. My wants are the most important. My contributions to society are so important that people should literally kiss my ass in gratitude when I pass.

Hope the library has picture books.

Pleasure Driveway PKD? I had to look it up. Not only do I have to pay taxes to this fund, but I still have to pay to get into the zoo or the RiverPlex. I appreciate a good park, but it’s absurd to pay this amount. Maybe a plaque should be hung at each park stating that this is funded by taxpayers who pay at least one paycheck per year to keep this open.

The RiverPlex is free and I'm pretty goddamn sure that most sentient human adults do not need a plaque to tell them that public facilities are paid for by tax dollars.

Can't help but love the "I'm not unreasonable, I object to the absurdity of the size of the tax burden" statements. First, there is no level of taxes above zero that this dingbat would not spend the vast majority of her life bitching about. Second, what is a reasonable amount to pay in taxes? We should probably just send everyone a blank form and have them write in an amount they have determined to be appropriate based on the voices in their head and how much they hate black people.

I should get bus passes for the amount we are paying to mass transit.

The bus costs a fucking dollar. One dollar, with free transfers. Also if this garbage bag of meat has ever been on public transit in her life I'll donate $1000 to her favorite charity, which is probably something that provides legal defense to abortion clinic bombers.

I am sure that many homeowners never see their property tax bill, but I think that it would behoove them to take a moment and see where that large chunk of money is actually going.

What? They mail it to you. You don't have to answer three riddles to get it. It's not balanced atop a greased flagpole. It's not written in a dead language. It comes in the mail and you open it and there's words and numbers.

Peoria residents may have voted in some of these taxes, but did they understand that if they didn’t pay them, they could lose the very house that they have worked years to buy?

No, they voted for these taxes assuming that they would never have to pay them or they could pay however much they want, and that there would be no consequences to deciding not to follow the law. The author apparently does not understand what a law is and projects that assumption onto everyone else. This is classic right wing vitriol – "Everything I say suggests that I haven't the slightest goddamn idea how government works or what it does, but I know it's terrible and everything it does is wrong."

Heather Olsson is a stay-at-home mother of seven.

Congratulations, you can have unprotected sex. You might find that money is a little less tight if you don't reproduce like a cockroach. Then again we've already established that the rest of society is supposed to accommodate your choices, right?

If this is the real America then America is an embarrassment. As someone who teaches college undergraduates I thought I was immune to being shocked by how wildly full of themselves some people can be despite having no skills, motivation, or accomplishments whatsoever. I was wrong.

Tags:

REDEEMING VALUE

Posted in Rants on September 10th, 2014 by Ed

Of the literal dozens of interviews with NFL players regarding Ray Rice that I have seen in the past 36 hours, all of which expressed condemnation, the best comment was made by his teammate Justin Forsett:

"I'm not going to abandon him now. I'm going to be a friend and help him in his growth and development. But I'm definitely ashamed watching that."

I want to be explicit about two things up front, and please re-read these before you post your angry comments. One, absolutely nobody should feel sorry for Ray Rice. Two, Ray Rice should go to prison. I believe that anyone who commits a crime with this level of violence deserves a prison sentence. Counseling? Therapy? Suspensions? Yes, he should have those things too. But he should spend a not-insignificant amount of time in prison for his crime. He won't, but he should.

I believe violent criminals should go to jail, but I also believe in an outmoded theory of incarceration that tries to rehabilitate offenders. It is one of my core beliefs that with very few exceptions, people who commit crimes can be rehabilitated. Not all of them will choose to do so, obviously, but I believe that every individual has the potential to reflect on his crime and commit to changing the part of himself that caused it to happen. And my purpose in writing this post is to emphasize that this applies even to people who commit the kind of crimes we find the most shocking and heinous.

This is not to say "Leave Ray alone!" or "The poor guy has suffered enough!" because he hasn't. People who do shameful things should not be shocked when they are made to feel ashamed of their actions and to the extent that he is suffering right now he has only himself to blame – not to mention that his suffering pales in comparison to that of his victim. He is not the victim; he is the perpetrator of all the misery resulting from his behavior including his own.

Forsett's comment reminds us all that while sympathy and concern should be directed primarily to the victim, the offender needs support as well. Rice does not need everyone on Earth to abandon him and treat him like a pariah even though he has committed a disgusting crime. He needs people to say, "I'm appalled at what you did, and if you decide that you want to change I will be here to help you." Not to make excuses for you. Not to protect you from the scorn and criticism you earned. To help. I think everyone deserves that, including murderers, rapists, and Ray Rice.

As I wrote years ago regarding Michael Vick, there is a tendency for people to adopt reactionary, right-wing frames when someone commits a particularly heinous crime. Suddenly we stop talking about the myriad problems with the justice and correctional systems in this country and we join the "Lock 'em up and throw away the key" chorus. We start demanding to see people punished in perpetuity, branded for life by their crime. Ray Rice will never escape what he did, nor should he. He will always be that guy who knocked his wife out and dragged her around by the hair. He made that bed for himself. But the appropriate response should not be to cast him out like a leper. If – the big if – he is willing to destroy the part of himself that enabled him to commit that crime and replace it with something better, people who know him should help him through that process. If he emerges from that having learned from his brutal crime (I hate it when people say "mistake" here), then more power to him. That is exactly what we want from people who commit crimes – to rehabilitate, not simply to be punching bags for our scorn and punishment forever.

I believe people can change, even people who do terrible things. To believe otherwise would be to agree with the Palins and the Limbaughs of the world, whose simplistic, idiotic worldview dictates that people are Good or Evil, period. Even though it is unpopular to say anything less than ruthlessly critical of a person who commits this kind of crime I'd sooner eat my hat than throw it into the ring with people who espouse such backward beliefs.

WE WEREN'T SURE WHAT PUNCHING LOOKS LIKE

Posted in Rants on September 9th, 2014 by Ed

When the coach of the Baltimore Ravens mentions four times in three minutes that Monday was the first time anyone had seen the video (via TMZ) of Ray Rice punching his wife – and then the announcing and studio crews on two Monday Night Football games repeat the talking point a few dozen times for emphasis – it sounds defensive and strongly implies that they're trying to establish a narrative of new information to conceal the fact that they likely saw the video months ago.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported months ago that the elevator camera footage was in the league's possession before backpedaling on that Monday in what appears to be a bizarre attempt to throw himself on a grenade and assist the league with damage control. This whole situation smacks of exactly what it is: a group of people attempting to create the impression of swift, decisive action when in reality they were aware of this months ago but were content to hush it up. Until they couldn't. When the police reports reveal that the hotel turned over all surveillance footage including this "new" video months ago, the flimsy story will collapse.

The more I thought about this on Monday, the less sense it makes that the video would somehow have changed the way the league and team viewed the situation. It was already common knowledge that Rice punched the woman, basically knocked her out, and dragged her out of the elevator by her hair. Were they somehow shocked to learn what "punching" is? Had they never seen punching before they allegedly discovered this clip on Monday? I realize that there is a difference in the way we process a video and a written description of an event, but in this instance a supposedly thorough investigation was done to establish what happened. Both parties and the investigators agreed on certain aspects of the story, including that Rice knocked her out with a punch. Irrespective of the video, this is not new information.

Maybe, if we try to assume the best intentions on the part of the decision-makers, the full weight of what he did only registered upon seeing the video. That's not a particularly good explanation for inaction, but it is an explanation. Instead the powers that be (the police will end up taking heat on this as well when the NFL throws them under the bus) are playing dumb about what has been standard operating procedure: do nothing or close to it until the negative attention reaches a critical mass, then play Knight in Shining Armor by creating the appearance of a swift, stern response that easily could have – and should have – been handed down months ago.

That's weak, guys. Weak.

HOLISTIC HEALING WELLNESS

Posted in Rants on September 8th, 2014 by Ed

Sometimes false equivalencies come from the most unexpected sources.

In 2008, the always vitriolic and reliable Matt Taibbi released his book The Great Derangement in which he looked at the growing disconnect between the American electorate and reality/facts. For reasons never explained and certainly not justified by reality, he presented End Times Christianity (and all the beliefs like creationism that accompany it) and 9/11 Trutherism as opposite ends of the political spectrum. That is, what creationism and fundamentalism are to The Right, Trutherism is to The Left. This is so far beyond stupid that I still can't believe he, of all people, wrote it. Trutherism is and always has been a movement of the Alex Jones crowd, the ultra-survivalist paranoid types who, if anything from the normal realm of politics can be applied to them, are closer to Libertarians than Liberals. They are a loose collection of conspiracy theorists, anti-government types, and good old fashioned charlatans and rubes. So to call Truthers the Christian fundamentalists of The Left is beyond a stretch – it is just false.

Had he waited a couple years or done a bit more research, he would have realized that the actual left-wing version of right-wingers who think the planet is 6,000 years old are the anti-vaxxers. This is not to say that all anti-vaxxers are liberals, as a good portion of them harbor some level of "Ain't no gubmint gonna tell ME what to do!" motivation. But if you want to point to something absolutely, categorically false and stupid that has a decent amount of popularity on the left (primarily among the Mother Earth Hippie liberals), crackpot vaccine theories are a much better fit for Taibbi's analogy. As a recent editorial puts it, the anti-vax movement is driven almost entirely by "Rich, educated, and stupid" parents. In other words, it is driven by people who should know better but don't; who have so bought into the idea of all things Natural being inherently superior that they have knee-jerk reactions against anything pharmaceutical or chemical entering the body. An author astutely called Whole Foods the "temple of pseudoscience" earlier this year, and although it pained many of my friends and colleagues to admit it, that is not inaccurate. Objectively, nothing separates the touted "holistic" and "natural" cures for various health issues from snake oil salesmen on infomercials. Or from the kind of awful science practiced by the religious right.

For the kind of person who believes that a bunch of herbal supplements* can cure your ailments "Nature's way," the intellectual leap to anti-vax arguments is not very far. That movement ties together several strains of American political paranoia – the distrust of Big Corporations, the insistence that things were so much better in the good ol' days, and the insistence that thanks to the internet, we all know better than any "expert" excepting of course the self-identified ones who tell us that what we believe is correct. It is popular among liberals, myself included, to take great joy in mocking the various stupidities of modern conservative ideology. We are less eager, logically, to point out that different flavors of that same poisonous logic pop up on the left as well. There are knuckleheads among us, and they sure as hell aren't talking about 9/11.

*This is not a blanket statement implying that there is no value in non-pharmaceutical medicine or that no conditions can be treated "naturally". It is instead an argument that the vast majority of what are offered as natural or herbal remedies have no scientific evidence to support their claims whatsoever – a problem endemic to the unregulated "dietary supplement" industry.

CRY FOR HELP

Posted in Rants on September 2nd, 2014 by Ed

The tale of a professor who "banned her students from emailing her" (note: that's not what happened, but good clickbait headline Mr. Editor!) made the rounds over the weekend as thousands of college courses went through the Syllabus Day ritual last week. This kind of story is tailor-made for social media, appealing to all the major demographics (young people, NPR types, and right wing assholes itching for a daily outrage).

Let me be clear up front that I would never do this, but I'd be lying if I said I would not like to do it. Obviously, part of what we are paid to do is answer students' emails as part of being accessible to them in general. But god almighty, I wish everyone who freaked out about this story/headline could see a semester worth of the emails we receive. Suffice it to say the highlighted comment in the link hits the nail on the head: 95% of them are questions that the students could easily answer themselves if they made the slightest effort to do so. The other 5% are excuses for absence, which do not interest me in the slightest; as college students are adults, they can be in class or not as they wish.

When I say that 95% of the questions could be answered with the tiniest bit of effort, you read that as hyperbole. It is not. Putting "The Constitution (available online)" on the reading list guarantees 5 to 10 "Where is the Constitution" emails because I guess Googling "The Constitution" never crosses their minds. Where is the syllabus? (It's on our course website, where it says "Syllabus".) What is the reading for this week? (It's on the syllabus). When is the first exam? (It's on the syllabus). How much of my grade is ____ worth? (It's on the syllabus). On and on and on.

I get basic questions that don't even relate to the class and are even easier to answer. Where is the Registrar's office? Who is the Dean? Who is our Congressman? Can I register to vote? I want to grab/shake/scream at them, "YOU ARE ON THE INTERNET 12 HOURS PER DAY, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU CANNOT ANSWER BASIC QUESTIONS WITH A SEARCH ENGINE." They can, of course. They just want either A) someone else to do it for them, because many of them are quite used to Mom and Dad doing everything or B) someone to hold their hand or tell them to do it even though they already know what to do.

This annoys us not only because we are lazy and irritable and hate having to answer stupid emails (although those things certainly are true, no doubt). It annoys us because it reflects an absence of basic life/coping skills that they were supposed to learn in junior high and instead we have to teach it in college. Remember in junior high or middle school when you were dragged down to the library and shown how to find something in a card catalog? How to look for books or other information online? Yeah we have to do that with 20 year olds now. And they still don't seem to get it.

Over time I've gotten really self conscious about "The Kids These Days" rants because in truth educators have been saying the same things about kids for…ever, really. But the tendency of this generation of students to ask questions they could easily answer themselves (more quickly, mind you, than they could answer it by awaiting my response) as a result of either laziness or helplessness is alarm. As I try to communicate to class after class of freshmen, their future employers are not going to hold their hand and do everything for them. If your boss gives you instructions and schedules – not unlike the syllabus does – and you continually email her to ask for information you have already been given, you will get fired.

The problem is that they all envision themselves as the boss in that anecdote.

SEPARATE BUT EQUAL

Posted in Rants on September 1st, 2014 by Ed

Here are some scenarios.

1. You work at Shipping Giant processing packages in a distribution center. Since you work in the middle of the night, you cook up an easy scam with your friends whereby you identify obviously valuable packages (for example, a crate of Playstation 4s) and change the addresses to redirect them to your friends. You quickly sell the pilfered goods on eBay, Craigslist, pawn shops, etc and split the profits. Eventually one too many packages turn up missing. Company security watches you closely and catches you in the act.

2. You work at a busy cash-only bar. With literally thousands of dollars in small bills flying around every night, it's very easy to pocket the occasional $5 bill as "bonus money." You also sell drinks out of your own bottles of liquor (come on, you remember the scene in Road House) and give away freebies to friends. The boss notices on a slow night and calls you into the back room.

3. You're a cashier at Retail Giant. You arrange with an accomplice to scan a barcode for a cheap item over the barcode on a much more expensive item. Too many electronics end up missing and eventually the security cameras catch you red handed. The manager on duty discreetly takes you off the floor and into the office.

All three scenarios are a variation of the same theme: you, the employee, are stealing from the employer. In addition to termination, what are the odds that any of these scenarios would not end with you in handcuffs facing eventual criminal charges and jail time? I'm going to estimate them at zero, plus or minus zero percent.

Simple enough. Now here are three more scenarios:

4. You work 55 hours per week at Shipping Giant but never receive the overtime pay required by law. After some complaints and threats, the company creates the legal fiction that you do not actually work for Shipping Giant but instead a subcontractor or as an "independent contractor." Thereby they exempt themselves from legal requirements to pay you 150% and effectively steal 7.5 full hours of pay from you for every 55 hour week.

5. The owner of Busy Cash-Only Bar illegally confiscates and takes a heavy cut off of your tips at the end of the night. Often what you receive in tips is below the "estimated" amount of tip income on which you must pay taxes.

6. Retail Giant regularly has you work another hour or two after clocking out. When you do submit a time card with the phantom hours included, your paycheck is still for 40 hours on the dot. You find that your time card has been altered by the manager to make the would-be overtime hours disappear.

All three scenarios are again a variation of the same theme: the employer is stealing from the employee. Odds on handcuffs, police cruisers, and criminal charges being involved? Again I'll go with zero. The absolute best the employee can hope for is to file a lawsuit to receive what he or she is already legally owed (minus the 30-50% cut the lawyers will be paid for their services) and get it after months or years of litigation.

These six scenarios, regardless of what semantic games we play, are essentially the same. Legally and morally, they all amount to theft. The employee is taking things to which he or she is not legally entitled or the employer is taking the employee's labor without paying the compensation required by law. In one set of scenarios both justice and punishment would be swift and severe; in the other, justice is an uphill battle and punishment is nonexistent.

Employment is a legal arrangement. You provide something of value to the employer in return for compensation at an agreed upon rate. As simple as that seems, we appear to have forgotten that collectively.

FASHIONABLY READY

Posted in Rants on August 25th, 2014 by Ed

It's a conundrum inherent to being a Responsible Gun Owner. Safety dictates that one's firearms should not be left scattered about loaded and ready for use, but you just never know when you'll need a gun right the hell now. After all, the whole point of having enough guns for a small army and carrying them on one's person is to be ready the instant someone or something needs to be taught a lesson in freedom. How, then, does the responsible gun owner reconcile the need for immediate, ready access with the obvious danger in leaving guns strewn about?

It's pretty easy, pinko. Just buy furniture explicitly designed to conceal firearms.

It locks; Responsible!

It locks. Responsible!

The loyal Americans at New Jersey Concealment Furniture combine a classic Shaker aesthetic with…hidden compartments for guns. Something tells me the Shakers didn't hide many guns around the house, but that's not important right now. What's important is that you hide guns all around your house. So you're never more than a few feet from a gun when al Qaeda / Thugs / the IRS / Janet Reno leaps out of your closet to attack.

nightstand

clock

coatrack

There is also a full sized wardrobe/hutch large enough to fit a total of six rifles or shotguns. For when you're standing in the foyer of your three bedroom colonial in Orland Park, IL and you need six rifles or shotguns. Oh, and if this needed to be said, the clock is available with the 2nd Amendment written on it as an alternative to the Bald Eagle pictured here.

Obviously.

GUTENBERG DIPLOMA

Posted in Rants on August 19th, 2014 by Ed

A recent report suggests that having a degree from a for-profit college is as good as having no degree at all on the job market. These schools usually offer most or all of their instruction online. This convenience, combined with their reputation for a lack of academic rigor, have made for-profits very popular with working adults seeking career advancement.

I'm on record as being stridently anti-online education and highly skeptical of for-profit colleges in general. Nonetheless I think they have entered the educational arena to serve a valid purpose. I think online degrees are great for anyone who needs an M.A. – any M.A., from anywhere – for career advancement. Cops, military, government bureaucrats, teachers…often they need to show a credential to move up the payscale. So if you want to get a pay-and-print Master's from Strayer University because you can't get bumped up to G-11 without it, great. It's a practical solution to a practical problem.

These degrees understandably lack prestige, though. That is irrelevant if you're only concerned with fulfilling a credential requirement at your workplace. However, online schools have grown rapidly and roped in a lot of working adults (and more traditional college-aged students too) with the pretense of getting a degree for the purpose of being more attractive on the open job market. This is patently silly – everyone knows that a degree from a college that advertises how quickly and cheaply they can sell you one is worth its weight in paper. As the data in this new report show, employers do not think terribly highly of Kaplan University Online when they see it on a resume. Nor should they.

If you actually need or want to learn anything, it goes without saying that an online degree program is going to do about as much for you as reading up on your favorite subjects online in your spare time.

For-profit colleges are the free market response to creeping credentialism. Employers demand degrees for jobs that do not actually require a college degree to do. They make completing post-graduate coursework a requirement for advancement or pay raises (K-12 education is really big on this, hence grade school teachers are a booming market for online schools) even if that coursework is of low quality and does little to improve one's ability to do the job. The new economy is a buyer's market and employers use college degrees as a way to quickly whittle down mountains of applications into manageable piles. And for the un- or under-employed, paying for more school and more degrees is pitched as the obvious solution to their predicament by universities, employers, and the political system alike.

Academia as a whole should do a better job of being upfront and honest with potential students; for-profits are especially deceptive, though. It will be interesting to see in the next decade if this bubble bursts as potential students figure out just how little such degrees are worth on the job market. We already tacitly accept that an online degree program doesn't actually teach you anything, and this fact does not limit their appeal in some circles as long as they continue to be cheap, easy, and convenient. But if we add "worthless" to that equation, even a cheap online degree doesn't make much sense.

Tags:

TOY SOLDIERS

Posted in Rants on August 17th, 2014 by Ed

Much of the coverage of the Michael Brown shooting and the borderline psychotic reaction by the local police has focused, justifiably, on the increasing militarization of podunk police forces across the country. The rest of us have been talking about this since the tsunami of surplus hardware started flowing during W's second term, but to the country at large (and media) this is a new phenomenon. Certainly there is some need in major metropolitan areas for a wider array of hardware. The NYPD, for example, should probably have a bigger selection of vehicles and tools than the Pigsknuckle, AR police force simply because the former is going to deal with a much larger and more complex variety of situations. But now we are seeing the consequences of making military hardware available – essentially for free – to anyone who wants it. Turns out that the people who want it also want to use it. Shocking, really, to see that a gaggle of yahoos who thought they needed Mine Resistant armored vehicles and .50 cal sniper rifles to patrol strip malls are eager play with their toys.

Many current and ex-military commentators have noted that "militarized" is a misnomer to describe the police in Ferguson, as the actual military is better trained, better organized, and operates under stricter rules of engagement. They also note that those cops were armed with and wearing far more "toys" than actual soldiers wore to do foot patrols in Iraq. The deadly farce looked bad enough to actually shock a few normally complacent or cop-loving portions of the public. It looked like exactly what it was – a bunch of out of control adolescent bullies playing soldier and showing off that they hadn't a clue what they were doing. That's how you end up with a guy dressed like GI Joe sitting atop a vehicle with a SR-25 sharpshooting rifle (unit cost to the Pentagon: $6000). If the cops actually thought or expected that they would get fired upon, what kind of idiot would sit on top of the truck out in the open? A big one. Or one who knows he isn't actually going to be fired upon and simply wants to intimidate people.

THIS IS HOW THE ARMY DOES IT, RIGHT?

THIS IS HOW THE ARMY DOES IT, RIGHT?

The dead giveaway that the problem in Ferguson is one of the mindset of law enforcement, and that police militarization is indeed a serious problem more broadly, is the widespread wearing of camouflage by the officers. Of what conceivable practical use could green or desert camouflage be in a suburban environment? Gonna help you blend in with the Taco Bell or the liquor store? Even if they did wear something that helped conceal them, that would be counterproductive to the entire purpose of policing in a situation like that; law enforcement wants to be visible to act as a deterrent to violent or property crimes in a public disturbance. There is only one reason those cops would wear camo, and it has nothing to do with practicality. It is an integral part of playing out their Soldier fantasy. It "looks cool." It makes them feel tougher and act more boldly. It cements the idea that they are not cops responsible to Serve & Protect the public; they are soldiers fighting The Enemy, and The Enemy is everyone else.

It is facile to say that "some good" may come of the young man's death if it leads to meaningful law enforcement reform. These events do seem like a tipping point, though, to bring together the Rand Paul right and the Maybe Stop Killing Black Men left to pare back the level of aggression, violence, and firepower used by police across the country. The pipeline of free military hand-me-downs is certain to be curtailed or at least subject to a higher degree of scrutiny, and the question of why cops can have $25,000 worth of body armor and weapons on their person but not a cheap, tiny microphone and/or camera.

PS: Anecdotally, an Afghanistan veteran friend told me that in two tours, he never once leveled (pointed) his weapon at anyone who had not already fired at him, which isn't a surprise given that the Army has actual rules of engagement. Go through the photos and videos from Ferguson and count how many instances you see of a podunk cop pointing a rifle at an unarmed person. I found at least a dozen and I didn't look very hard.