Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rebellion in the ranks!!

I teach one of the most essential classes offered to students at my university. It's not popular - not at all. It's filled because it's required, not because people want to take it. I never had to take a course like this when I was an undergrad - and I paid dearly for that in the workplace. It's one of the most stressful courses a student can take. If it had been mandatory when I was in college, I would have done everything in my power to get out of it. But back then, in my liberal arts college, it was not even offered.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On the religious values of Hobby Lobby

Sometimes I feel like the nation has moved into some weird alternative universe. Hard as it may seem, SCOTUS has me thinking about the IUD. Yes, the IUD, the intra-uterine device. There are two types, one made of copper and one that uses hormones in someway to prevent pregnancy.

Until the Hobby Lobby decision, I had no idea that the IUD was viewed by some in America as a murder weapon. I thought it was birth control, plain and simple. Here's what the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has to say about how the IUD works:
Both types of IUDs work mainly by preventing fertilization of the egg by the sperm. The hormonal IUD also thickens cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus and fertilize the egg, and keeps the lining of the uterus thin, which makes it less likely that a fertilized egg will attach to it.
ACOG also views the IUD, along with the birth control implant, as "the most effective forms of reversible birth control available."

SCOTUS says otherwise. In the Hobby Lobby ruling, SCOTUS codifies the idea that the IUD is a device used to murder fertilized eggs. And the Hobby Lobby ruling codifies the idea that a fertilized egg is a person and that life begins at conception. And the Hobby Lobby ruling also codifies the idea that a corporation is a person who has devout, religious beliefs that must be protected from egregious governmental interference as per the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

So who is Hobby Lobby? Hobby Lobby is a company owned by the David Green family, whose religion is Pentecostal Christian. David Green once characterized himself as the black sheep of the family, as everyone else was engaged in church work. And now, David Green is also involved in church work.

According to Forbes, he/she (it is insulting to call a "person" an "it" and I don't want to get in trouble with SCOTUS!) is one of the largest privately held corporations in America. He/she employs 23,000 people, has 578 stores throughout the country, and had sales of $3.3 billion in 2012.

And now Hobby Lobby is as religious as the pope! And as opposed to abortion as the pope himself. Thus, Hobby Lobby does not have to include methods of birth control his/her owners find objectionable.

Here's a bit from the majority opinon of SCOTUS:

According to HHS and the dissent, these corporations are not protected by RFRA because they cannot exercise religion. Neither HHS nor the dissent, however, provides any persuasive explanation for this conclusion.
 It may seem obvious to some that a corporation cannot exercise religion, but apparently, because non-profit religious entities are religious, so too are for-profit companies that sell a load of Chinese junk to American hobbyists.

Here's some more from the five pro-Christian white men on the Supreme Court:

The Hahns and Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage. This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.
This is terrible language and reasoning from the five conservative justices of the Supreme Court. Abortion is a legally sanctioned medical procedure under today's laws. It is considered immoral among some religious people. But that does not make it immoral.

As a legal, medical procedure, abortion is not deemed immoral by the laws of the United States. (I have a feeling it won't be long until SCOTUS changes this - to avoid offending some citizens of the United States whose religion deems this legal medical procedure "immoral.")

And so what I don't understand - how the Greens' religion must supersede the law of the land. How are the Greens' morals thwarted when Hobby Lobby's health insurance plan covers IUDs and morning-after pills? How is including the IUD in the Hobby Lobby insurance plan "a substantial burden" on the exercise of religion? The Greens are not obligated to use these products. Hobby Lobby employees are not obligated to use these products. Yet SCOTUS has decided that this corporate entity gets to impose its religion on its employees.

It may make sense to the five justices who made this decision, but it makes no sense to me. And the Hobby Lobby decision has opened up a Pandora's box of new court cases from corporations who don't want to lose their religion just because of ACA.

Time for some REM!

Monday, June 9, 2014

On the mythology of the "student-athlete"

Do universities provide "student-athletes" with a proper education in exchange for their athletic performance on the field?

I suppose it depends on the sport. But for the high-profile, high-profit sports, it is not clear that athletes are getting what they deserve from the university. Football and basketball athletes who participate on high-profile teams, the ones we watch on TV, are engaged in a highly profitable activity (Final Four rakes in more advertising dollars than the NFL playoffs) - but due to NCAA rules, the profits do not trickle down to the athletes - they require college profit centers student-athletes to remain "amateurs."

Scholarships are provided to these student athletes, of course - many of these highly skilled athletes are provided full-ride scholarships to excellent universities.

But are student-athletes getting a good deal?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The unbearable insanity of being in the state of North Carolina

So three years ago, I moved away from a state that half of the residents want to leave. We left Illinois to settle (for now) in the Tar Heel state.

And I have to say - coming from a state everyone wants to leave, a state that has nothing in the coffers but a lot of IOUs to state employees looking for their pensions, a state with political corruption famous throughout the nation - nothing I witnessed in the Land of Lincoln has prepared me for politics in the Tea Party Tar Heel state. Nothing in Illinois - not a series of governors on the path to jail, not Blago and his big mouth (and fondness for Kipling), not RM Daley and his crony capitalism that helped the Loop grow pretty flower boxes and a very expensive Bean as the neighborhoods withered, not the epic failures of privatization set into play by Daley before he retired - none of this prepared me for politics in North Carolina.

That's how crazy it is in this state today.

When we moved to North Carolina from up north, it was in part because North Carolina had a reputation for being a moderate Southern state - purple, not blue or red. This is a Southern state that even went for Obama in 2008 (!!!)

Everything changed in 2010 when the GOP took over the state senate and house. And then it became one of the angriest red states in the country in 2012 when the GOP won all three branches of state government.

Since achieving super party status, the NCGOP has ripped up everything in the social contract - the NCGOP refused Medicaid expansion, initiated some of the worst voter suppression legislation in the country, looked the other way when a big donor started polluting the Dan River, shrank unemployment compensation (which shrank the labor force participation rate), slashed a huge amount of money from the UNC-system budget (no raises for professors either, under NCGOP rule), etc. and so on.

It has been more than half a decade since K-12 teachers were given a substantive raise. A couple years ago, they got a 1.2% raise - but that's not a raise - that didn't even cover cost-of-living increases since the last raise. It was PR that could be spun as a raise, but really, the "raise" probably wouldn't even cover a state politician's Starbucks budget.

Last week, the Republican governor proposed a modest pay raise for many (not all) teachers, and to do so, he had to pull money from the UNC system budget to cover the raises.

Today, after years of starving K-12 teachers (their pay rank dropped from middle of the pack in 2008 to 46th in 2014), the NCGOP-led state Sentate magnanimously announced generous raises for all teachers - raises that would bring NC back up into the middle of the national pack on the teacher pay scale.

Of course there is a catch... teachers must give up tenure if they want the raise. Those who do not want to give up tenure do not get a raise.

Now I may not be the biggest fan of tenure, but this is not the way to get rid of it. To get a long-delayed, much deserved raise in North Carolina, a teacher must first align with NCGOP ideology that tenure has no purpose and no reason for being. In NC, K-12 "tenure" is the right of due process before being dismissed. With that protection removed, I can see a future where teachers who do not teach what the NCGOP deems ideologically appropriate will get fired.

This is a state that made it illegal in 2012 to discuss global warming trends. This is a state that today wants to make it a felony to discuss chemicals used in fracking. This is a state that passed legislation allowing guns in bars and in parks and on college campuses, but arrests citizens for exercising their right to peaceably assemble at the state capitol.

So it is not far-fetched to think that this is a state where untenured teachers who do not teach creationism will get fired.

And that is part of the unbearable insanity that comes with being and living and paying taxes and sending one's children to school in the state of North Carolina.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Geithner gets an F on his stress test.

I have not read Tim Geithner's memoir of the crash, Stress Test. [I did read Hank Paulson's memoir of the crash - and discovered that we shared three things in common - birding, residence in Barrington IL (I lived there once, a long time ago) and a love of the boundary waters near Ely MN. Otherwise, Paulson and I do not see eye-to-eye on much, particularly on his handling of the bailout.]

I don't know if I will read Geithner's book. It is well-written, says Michael Lewis (author of Liar's Poker) in a NY Times review. But as I read Lewis's review, I wanted to throw the book at a wall - and I don't even own the book. Lewis quotes Geithner as saying:
"We did save the economy, but we lost the country doing it..." 
(My God! Is the economy "saved"? Not in my neck of the woods! But the country was indeed lost as a result of the crash.)

Lewis goes on to say:

"Geithner seems genuinely to believe that the details of the behavior inside the financial industry are largely irrelevant — that investors who bought subprime mortgage bonds simply suffered from the same misconceptions as everyone else. But he doesn’t begin to explain why, if investors were so numb to risk, Wall Street went to such lengths to disguise that risk. Why did our financiers stuff so many bad loans into incomprehensibly complex securities that even sophisticated investors were unlikely to understand, and then pressure deeply conflicted ratings agencies to declare them risk-free?"
I can only imagine why the banks hid the risk of their activites, and it was not out of ignorance or stupidity. They knew what they were doing, and they were blessed by a US government seemingly uninterested in holding them accountable for egregious failures. For Geithner, holding bankers accountable is apparently some kind of "Old Testament vengeance" rather than the normal course of action when people screw up as spectacularly as bankers did.

Apparently Repo 105 and over-leveraging one's business and betting against the US housing market (there's no place like home if you're a Goldman Sachs banker looking to pad the bonus) are standard business practices we should continue to encourage. And funneling billions and billions and billions of dollars to bankers was the ONLY way to solve the issues of the financial sector (Geithner seems unaware that there was an economy outside of Wall Street, an economy that has ramped up to putter-speed right now, more than a half decade after the crash.)

Geithner spent time on the Daily Show this week, listening to Jon Stewart talk about the book. Stewart devoted quite a bit of time to talking about the book to Geithner - here's part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5 of the interview. You'll see if you watch the segments, that Geithner, former Treasury Secretary, could barely get a word in edgewise.

And that's the problem with Geithner.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Yes, Jill Abramson's firing had everything to do with gender

Earlier this year, Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, was not happy with the reception given to his wife's story in the Guardian about a cancer patient. Emma Keller's story looked at the "ethics of tweeting a terminal illness" and focused attention on Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman tweeting and blogging about living with Stage IV breast cancer. Emma's post was so polarizing that the Guardian took it down (here's a cached version.)

A couple days after Emma Keller published her story about Lisa Bonchek Adams, Bill Keller wrote a piece about Adams as well. It was called "Heroic Measures" and it essentially called on Lisa Adams to shut up and die already. Here's how he opened the essay:
LISA BONCHEK ADAMS has spent the last seven years in a fierce and very public cage fight with death. Since a mammogram detected the first toxic seeds of cancer in her left breast when she was 37, she has blogged and tweeted copiously about her contest with the advancing disease. She has tweeted through morphine haze and radiation burn. Even by contemporary standards of social-media self-disclosure, she is a phenomenon. (Last week she tweeted her 165,000th tweet.) A rapt audience of several thousand follows her unsparing narrative of mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, biopsies and scans, pumps and drains and catheters, grueling drug trials and grim side effects, along with her posts on how to tell the children, potshots at the breast cancer lobby, poetry and resolute calls to “persevere.”
Keller's essay unfortunately has some factual errors - I guess he's perhaps become a careless reporter (like so many reporters these days!) Keller misreports the number of children Adams has (he said two; she has three). He also misrepresents Adams' condition. Adams does not feel she is in a "cage fight with death." She feels she is an example of living with cancer - and she's seeking to prolong the time she has to spend with her very small children. Keller also seems unable to comprehend why/how Adams has amassed this "rapt audience of several thousand" people. And he thinks her efforts to persevere are wasteful and wrong:
"In October 2012 I wrote about my father-in-law’s death from cancer in a British hospital. There, more routinely than in the United States, patients are offered the option of being unplugged from everything except pain killers and allowed to slip peacefully from life. His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America."
In Keller's mind, instead of engaging in that "medical trench warfare," Adams should choose as his father-in-law chose - to die, rather than seek to prolong life (because young mothers and very old men diagnosed with cancer should always choose death so as not to be a drain on the healthcare system).

Here's how Keller ends his essay:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Reposting an oldie, in honor of the day...

The advantages of size and might, as revealed by the Easter Egg Hunt

A large crowd clusters near the glass doors. All are gathered together on this morning via the annual ritual known as the Easter brunch, celebrating the epic Christian holiday that commemorates resurrection and rebirth.

Outside, it is a sunny but chilly spring morning. Inside, the room is full of people preparing for the Easter egg hunt. Little girls dressed in pretty dresses. Boys wearing button down shirts and khaki pants. Adults happy with the knowledge that spring has (hopefully) arrived.

All of the children are eager for the impending hunt. They cluster near the door for easy access to the patio outside. They see bright plastic eggs splash vibrant color on the beautiful green lawn. The excitement builds. You can hear the murmur of children wondering when it will start.

And finally, the moment all the children have been waiting for arrives. The doors open - and the crowd spills out past the patio and onto the well manicured lawn where the eggs lay in plain view.

Only the eagerness has turned into a frenzy. Younger children are getting pushed around by the bigger children. In the adults who watch, a worry tickles the mind - that the race for the eggs may get ugly. The stampede may result in a trampled child. That the lovely Easter morning may turn tragic.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On teaching at the university...

Harry B over at Crooked Timber has a post called "Paying for the Party" and it's about a book of the same name, which, according to the Amazon synopsis, is about "how college maintains inequality." The book follows a group women at a flagship public university in the Midwest (apparently, it's Indiana University in beautiful Bloomington) and showcases how the "party pathway" is detrimental to lower-income female students. 

Here's a bit of Harry's synopsis of the book:
"The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds."
He continues:
"The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low GPAs that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up."
 I have not read the book yet, but hope to soon (after the semester ends). I am new to the university setting - I have worked for many years in the private sector (freelance writer in the communications field in the 3rd largest market in the country.) A couple years ago, I became what's known as a "trailing spouse" and landed in the university setting, and I am teaching (for now.)

I have enjoyed teaching. It has been quite an interesting experience - what I love most is working with the students. 

However, in some students, there is a lack of responsibility that I find surprising - a tendency to blame others for their failure - to care only about the grade, but not about the work required to make the grade they want to make. I have other students who are ill-prepared for the rigors of university life - they are like deer in the headlights when I assign "critical thinking" assignments. These are not stupid students - they're bright and engaged, but trained to be the passive repository of information that they will spit out onto a test later in the semester. A lifetime of boiling all facts down to bubble tests makes them terrified of the task of wrangling data, facts, etc. into a coherent paper or presentation. Few know how to use commas, apostrophes or spell check (I go mad when grading papers - or in student language: paper's.)

I've had first generation students, extremely rich students, out-of-state students, students who take six courses while working 30 hours a week (how can they possibly put the required time into their studies? They can't - it's a joke - they simply cannot do the academic work they need to do - but they need to do this in order to graduate with as little debt as possible.)

I've had students who start the semester late because it's taken too long to figure out financial aid. I've had students get into serious, serious trouble and drop out. Many - too many - students are on medications to handle stress, anxiety, attention deficits, etc.

I DO wonder why college (and high school) students feel compelled to obliterate themselves by drinking. But that's not new - certainly that's not new at Indiana University, where both my siblings attended some years ago.

This book, "Paying for the Party" faults the university for the inequality that is maintained by the "party pathway." I have to say, I don't know how much a university can do to overcome a culture of teaching to the test, a culture that looks to pharmaceutical solutions for things like stress (which, surprise surprise, is a big issue around finals and midterms), a national culture (not isolated to the university) that makes it almost imperative to bear no responsibility for one's actions. Drinking so much that one cannot attend classes - that's a choice students make. According to the synopsis of this book (which again, I have not read), this flawed approach to college is detrimental ONLY to lower income students, who don't have connections that will pull them out of this black hole. What happens to the successful, non-drinking lower income students? Or are they all lost?

Though this book blames the university's blind eye to undergraduate binge drinking issues, it really seems to point to inequality as the problem, not necessarily the culture of drinking. And so I have questions prompted by Harry's post...