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Aiding Transgender Case, Sessions Defies His Image on Civil Rights

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Wow! Matt Arpuzzo reports in the NY Times:

The Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year, a highly unusual move that officials said was personally initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.

The Justice Department rarely assigns its lawyers to serve as local prosecutors, and only in cases in which they can provide expertise in areas that the federal government views as significant. By doing so in this instance, Mr. Sessions put the weight of the government behind a small-city murder case with overtones of gender identity and sexuality.

Kedarie Johnson, a 16-year-old student in Burlington, Iowa, was shot to death in March 2016. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2017 at 1:40 pm

American higher education: An unlikely triumph

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David Larrabee has a very interesting article in Aeon, which seems to be an extract from his new book:

David Labaree is Lee L Jacks professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. He is the former president of the History of Education Society and former vice president of the American Educational Research Association. His most recent book is A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education (2017).

The piece begins:

From the perspective of 19th-century visitors to the United States, the country’s system of higher education was a joke. It wasn’t even a system, just a random assortment of institutions claiming to be colleges that were scattered around the countryside. Underfunded, academically underwhelming, located in small towns along the frontier, and lacking in compelling social function, the system seemed destined for obscurity. But by the second half of the 20th century, it had assumed a dominant position in the world market in higher education. Compared with peer institutions in other countries, it came to accumulate greater wealth, produce more scholarship, win more Nobel prizes, and attract a larger proportion of talented students and faculty. US universities dominate global rankings.

How did this remarkable transformation come about? The characteristics of the system that seemed to be disadvantages in the 19th century turned out to be advantages in the 20th. Its modest state funding, dependence on students, populist aura, and obsession with football gave it a degree of autonomy that has allowed it to stand astride the academic world.

The system emerged under trying circumstances early in US history, when the state was weak, the market strong, and the church divided. Lacking the strong support of church and state, which had fostered the growth of the first universities in medieval Europe, the first US colleges had to rely largely on support from local elites and tuition-paying student consumers. They came into being with the grant of a corporate charter from state government, but this only authorised these institutions. It didn’t fund them.

The rationale for starting a college in the 19th century usually had less to do with promoting higher learning than with pursuing profit. For most of US history, the primary source of wealth was land, but in a country with a lot more land than buyers, the challenge for speculators was how to convince people to buy their land rather than one of the many other available options. (George Washington, for instance, accumulated some 50,000 acres in the western territories, and spent much of his life unsuccessfully trying to monetise his holdings.) The situation became even more desperate in the mid-19th century, when the federal government started giving away land to homesteaders. One answer to this problem was to show that the land was not just another plot in a dusty agricultural village but prime real estate in an emerging cultural centre. And nothing said culture like a college. Speculators would ‘donate’ land for a college, gain a state charter, and then sell the land around it at a premium, much like developers today who build a golf course and then charge a high price for the houses that front on to it.

Of course, chartering a college is not the same as actually creating a functioning institution. So speculators typically sought to affiliate their emergent college with a religious denomination, which offered several advantages. One was that it segmented the market. A Presbyterian college would be more attractive to Presbyterian consumers than the Methodist college in the next town. Another was staffing. Until the late-19th century, nearly all presidents and most faculty at US colleges were clergymen, who were particularly attractive to college founders for two reasons. They were reasonably well-educated, and they were willing to work cheap. A third advantage was that the church just might be induced to contribute a little money from time to time to support its struggling offspring.

Often the motives of profit and faith converged in the same person, producing a distinctive American character – the clergyman-speculator. J B Grinnell was a Congregational minister who left the church he founded in Washington, DC, to establish a town out west as a speculative investment. In 1854 he settled on a location in Iowa, named the town Grinnell, gained a charter for a college, and started selling land for $1.62 an acre. Instead of organising a college from scratch, he convinced Iowa College to move from Davenport and assume the name Grinnell College.

This process of college development helps to explain a lot of things about the emergent form of the US higher-education system in the 19th century. Less than a quarter of the colleges were in the strip of land along the eastern seaboard where most Americans lived. More than half were in the Midwest and Southwest: the sparsely populated frontier. If your aim is to attract a lot of students, this was not a great business plan, but it was useful in attracting settlers. The frontier location also helps to explain the nominal church support for the colleges. In the competitive US setting where no church was dominant, it was each denomination for itself, so everyone wanted to plant the denominational flag in the new territories for fear of ceding the terrain to the opposition. Together, land speculation and sectarian competitions help to explain why, by 1880, Ohio had 37 colleges – and France just 16.

The sheer number of such college foundings was remarkable. In 1790, at the start of the first decade of the new republic, the US already had 19 institutions called colleges or universities. The numbers grew gradually in the first three decades, rising to 50 by 1830, and then started accelerating. By the 1850s they had reached 250, doubling again in the following decade (563), and in 1880 totalled 811. The growth in colleges vastly exceeded the growth in population, with a total of five colleges per million people in 1790, rising to 16 per million in 1880. In that year, the US had five times as many colleges as the entire continent of Europe. This was the most overbuilt system of higher education the world had ever seen.

Of course, as European visitors liked to point out, it was a stretch to call most of these colleges institutions of higher learning. For starters, they were small. In 1880, the average college boasted 131 students and 10 faculty members, granting only 17 degrees a year. Most were located far from centres of culture and refinement. Faculty were preachers rather than scholars, and students were whoever was willing to pay tuition for a degree whose market value was questionable. Most graduates joined the clergy or other professions that were readily accessible without a college degree.

On the east coast, a small number of colleges – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, William and Mary – drew students from families of wealth and power, and served as training grounds for future leaders. But closer to the frontier, there were no established elites for colleges to bond with, and they offered little in the way of social distinction. The fact that every other town had its own college led to intense competition for students, which meant that tuition charges remained low. This left colleges to operate on a shoestring, making do with poor facilities, low pay, struggles to attract and retain students and faculty, and continual rounds of fundraising. And it meant that students were more middle- than upper-class, there for the experience rather than the learning; the most serious students were those on scholarship.

Another sign of the lowly status of these 19th-century colleges is that they were difficult to distinguish from the variety of high schools and academies that were also in abundance across the US landscape. For students, it was often a choice of going to high school or to college, rather than seeing one as the feeder institution for the other. As a result, the age range of students attending high schools and colleges was substantially the same.

By the middle of the century, a variety of new forms of public colleges arose in addition to the independent institutions that today we call private. States started establishing their own colleges and universities, for much the same reasons as churches and towns did: competition (if the state next door had a college, you needed one too) and land speculation (local boosters pushed legislatures to grant them this plum). In addition, there were the colleges that arose from federal land grants and came to focus on more practical rather than classical education, such as engineering and agriculture. Finally came the normal schools, which focused on preparing teachers for the growing public school system. Unlike the privates, these newer institutions operated under public control, but that did not mean they had a steady flow of public funding. They didn’t start getting annual appropriations until the start of the 20th century. As a result, like the privates, they had to rely on student tuition and donations in order to survive, and they had to compete for students and faculty in the larger market already established by their private predecessors.

By 1880, the US system of higher education was extraordinarily large and spatially dispersed, with decentralised governance and a remarkable degree of institutional complexity. This system had established a distinctive structure early in the century, and then elaborated on it over the succeeding decades. It might seem strange to call the motley collection of some 800 colleges and universities a system at all. ‘System’ implies a plan and a form of governance that keeps things working according to the plan, and that indeed is the formal structure of higher-education systems in most other countries, where a government ministry oversees the system and tinkers with it over time. But not in the US.

The system of higher education in the US did not arise from a plan, and no agency governs it. It just happened. But it is nonetheless a system, which has a well-defined structure and a clear set of rules that guides the actions of the individuals and institutions within it. In this sense, it is less like a political system guided by a constitution than a market-based economic system arising from an accumulation of individual choices. Think urban sprawl rather than planned community. Its history is not a deliberate construction but an evolutionary process. The market systems just happen, but that doesn’t keep us from understanding how it came about and how it works.

People did try to impose some kind of logical form and function on to the system. All US presidents until Andrew Jackson argued for the need to establish a national university, which would have set a high standard for the system, but this effort failed because of the widespread fear of a strong central government. And a number of actors tried to impose their own vision of what the purpose of the system should be. In 1828, the Yale faculty issued a report strongly supporting the traditional classical curriculum (focused on Latin, Greek and religion); in the 1850s, Francis Wayland at Brown argued for a focus on science; and the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 called for colleges that would ‘teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life’. These visions provided support for a wide array of alternative college missions within a diversified system that was wed to none of them.

The weaknesses of the college system were glaringly obvious. Most of the colleges were not created to promote higher learning, and the level of learning they did foster was modest indeed. They had a rudimentary infrastructure and no reliable stream of funding. They were too many in number for any of them to gain distinction, and there was no central mechanism for elevating some of them above others. Unlike Europe, the US had no universities with the imprimatur of the national government or the established church, just a collection of marginal public and private institutions located on the periphery of civilisation. What a mess.

Take Middlebury College, a Congregational institution founded in 1800, which has now become one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the country, considered one of the ‘little Ivies’. But in 1840, when its new president arrived on campus (a Presbyterian minister named Benjamin Labaree, my grandfather’s grandfather), he found an institution that was struggling to survive, and in his 25-year tenure as president this situation did not change much for the better. In letters to the board of trustees, he detailed a list of woes that afflicted the small college president of his era. Hired for a salary of $1,200 a year (roughly $32,000 today), he found that the trustees could not afford to pay it. So he immediately set out to raise money for the college, the first of eight fundraising campaigns that he engaged in, making a $1,000 contribution of his own and soliciting gifts from the small faculty.

Money worries are the biggest theme in Labaree Snr’s letters (struggling to recruit and pay faculty, mortgaging his house to make up for his own unpaid salary, and perpetually seeking donations), but he also complained about the inevitable problems that come from trying to offer a full college curriculum with a small number of underqualified professors:

I accepted the Presidency of Middlebury College, Gentlemen, with a full understanding that your Faculty was small and that in consequence a large amount of instruction would devolve upon the President – that I should be desired to promote the financial interests of the Institution, as convenience and the duties of instruction would permit, was naturally to be expected, but I could not have anticipated that the task of relieving the College from pecuniary embarrassment, and the labor and responsibility of procuring funds for endowment for books, for buildings etc, etc would devolve on me. Could I have foreseen what you would demand of me, I should never have engaged in your service.

At one place in the correspondence, Labaree Snr listed the courses he had to teach as president: ‘Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Political Economy, International Law, Evidences of Christianity, History of Civilization, and Butler’s Analogy’. US college professors could not afford to have narrow expertise.

In short, the US college system in the mid-19th century was all promise and no product. Nonetheless, it turns out that the promise was extraordinary. One hidden strength was . . .

Continue reading.

Again we see that the Darwinian logic of evolution drives cultural development. Attempts at intelligent design don’t adapt so well or grow so fast. Bottom up, responding to the environment, works better than top down, trying realize a centrally directed plan.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2017 at 8:33 am

Posted in Education

Death at a Penn State Fraternity—and the power of dysfunctional organizations

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Caitlin Flanagan’s article in the Atlantic leaves me feeling that something is deeply wrong with American society and its values. (I am proud to say that I attended an undergraduate college that had no fraternities and no hazing.) She writes:

At about 3 p.m. on friday, February 3, Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State University, arrived at Hershey Medical Center by helicopter. Eighteen hours earlier, he had been in the kind of raging good health that only teenagers enjoy. He was a handsome, redheaded kid with a shy smile, a hometown girlfriend, and a family who loved him very much. Now he had a lacerated spleen, an abdomen full of blood, and multiple traumatic brain injuries. He had fallen down a flight of stairs during a hazing event at his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, but the members had waited nearly 12 hours before calling 911, relenting only when their pledge “looked fucking dead.” Tim underwent surgery shortly after arriving at Hershey, but it was too late. He died early the next morning.

Listen to the audio version of this article hereFor more feature stories, read aloud, download the Audm app for your iPhone.

Every year or so brings another such death, another healthy young college man a victim of hazing at the hands of one of the nation’s storied social fraternities. And with each new death, the various stakeholders perform in ways that are so ritualized, it’s almost as though they are completing the second half of the same hazing rite that killed the boy.

The fraternity enters a “period of reflection”; it may appoint a “blue-ribbon panel.” It will announce reforms that look significant to anyone outside the system, but that are essentially cosmetic. Its most dramatic act will be to shut down the chapter, and the house will stand empty for a time, its legend growing ever more thrilling to students who walk past and talk of a fraternity so off the chain that it killed a guy. In short order it will “recolonize” on the campus, and in a few years the house will be back in business.

The president of the college or university where the tragedy occurred will make bold statements about ensuring there is never another fraternity death at his institution. But he knows—or will soon discover—that fraternity executives do not serve at the pleasure of college presidents. He will be forced into announcing his own set of limp reforms. He may “ban” the fraternity from campus, but since the fraternity will have probably closed the chapter already, he will be revealed as weak.

The media will feast on the story, which provides an excuse to pay an unwarranted amount of attention to something viewers are always interested in: the death of a relatively affluent white suburban kid. Because the culprits are also relatively affluent white suburban kids, there is no need to fear pandering to the racial bias that favors stories about this type of victim. The story is ultimately about the callousness and even cruelty of white men.

The grieving parents will appear on television. In their anger and sorrow, they will hope to press criminal charges. Usually they will also sue the fraternity, at which point they will discover how thoroughly these organizations have indemnified themselves against culpability in such deaths. The parents will try to turn their grief into meaningful purpose, but they will discover how intractable a system they are up against, and how draining the process of chipping away at it is. They will be worn down by the endless civil case that forces them to relive their son’s passing over and over. The ritual will begin to slow down, but then a brand-new pair of parents—filled with the energy and outrage of early grief—will emerge, and the cycle will begin again.

Tim Piazza’s case, however, has something we’ve never seen before. This time the dead student left a final testimony, a vivid, horrifying, and inescapable account of what happened to him and why. The house where he was so savagely treated had been outfitted with security cameras, which recorded his long ordeal. Put together with the texts and group chats of the fraternity brothers as they delayed seeking medical treatment and then cleaned up any traces of a wild party—and with the 65-page report released by a Centre County grand jury, which recommended 1,098 criminal charges against 18 former members and against the fraternity itself—the footage reveals a more complete picture of certain dark realities than we have previously had.

Once again, a student is dead and a family is shattered. And all of us are co-authors of these grim facts, as we grant both the fraternities and their host institutions tax-exempt status and allow them to carry on year after year with little change. Is it time we reconsidered what we’re doing?

In 2004, a penn state alumnus from the class of 1970 named Donald Abbey visited his old fraternity house, Beta Theta Pi. He had been a star fullback in the early years of the Joe Paterno era, and gone on to become a billionaire real-estate investor and builder in California who remembered the Beta house as a central part of his college experience. But when he visited, he was shocked—it was, he recalled, “repulsive,” and he felt compelled to bring his experience in “repositioning properties” to bear on 220 North Burrowes Road. He would spend a total of $8.5 million on what would be the most extensive renovation of an American fraternity house in history.

Abbey’s taste does not run to the economic or the practical. One of the mansions he built for himself in California, in the San Gabriel Valley, has an underground firing range; a million-gallon, temperature-controlled trout pond; an oak-paneled elevator; and “Venetian plaster masterpieces throughout.” Similarly, his vision for the refurbished Beta house was like something out of a movie about college. (Exterior: the frat where the rich bastards live.) The bathrooms had heated floors, the two kitchens had copper ceilings, the tables were hand-carved mahogany imported from Colombia. At the entrances were biometric fingerprint scanners.

Abbey seems not to have considered why the house might have become so “repulsive” in the first place. A simple trip through the archives of The Daily Collegian might have revealed to him that the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi was hardly the Garrick Club. This was an outfit in which a warm day might bring the sight of a brother sitting, with his pants pulled down, on the edge of a balcony, while a pledge stood on the ground below, his hands raised as though to catch the other man’s feces. At the very least, this might not have been the crowd for anything requiring a fingerprint.

The renovations were largely complete by the winter of 2007, and almost immediately the members began to trash the house. Abbey was justly furious, and at some point he had at least 14 security cameras installed throughout the public rooms, an astonishing and perhaps unprecedented step. The cameras were in no way secret, and yet the brothers continued to engage in a variety of forbidden acts, including hazing, in clear view of them. In late January 2009, the national fraternity put the chapter on probation. But the young men continued to break the rules. A few weeks later, the chapter’s probation was converted to the more serious “interim suspension.” Incredibly, with the pressure on and the cameras still recording, the behavior continued. By the end of February, the chapter had been disbanded.

The public often interprets the “closing” of a fraternity as a decisive action. In fact, it is really more of a “reopening under new management” kind of process. The national organization grooms a new set of brothers—a “colony”—and trains them carefully so that the bad behavior of the previous group will not be replicated. The first few years typically go very well. Indeed, not two years after the Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi reopened in the fall of 2010, it won a Sisson Award, one of the highest honors the national fraternity can confer. But just as typically, the chapter reverts to its previous behavior. Alumni visit their old house and explain how things ought to be done; private Facebook groups and GroupMe chats are initiated among brothers of different chapters, and information about secret hazing rituals is exchanged. This time, when the brothers of the newly reconstituted Beta chapter reverted to type and started hazing, the national organization did not intervene.

I wanted to learn more about the cameras, and also about something called the “Shep Test,” so in June I called the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the trade association for social fraternities, which is located in Carmel, Indiana. I asked to schedule an interview with the CEO, Jud Horras, who was also a Beta, a former assistant secretary of the fraternity’s national organization, and someone who had been intimately involved in the disbanding and recolonization of the Penn State chapter.

In 1998, a year after Tim Piazza was born, Beta Theta Pi launched something it called Men of Principle, intended to be a “culture-reversing initiative.” What culture was it seeking to reverse? This was best answered in the four planks of the campaign. The first was administrative: create “a five-person trained and active advisory team.” The other three were the crux of the matter: commit “to a 100% hazing-free pledge program,” institute “alcohol-free recruitment,” and eliminate the “Shep Test,” which it described as “the rogue National Test.”

The last one caught my attention, so I Googled around to find out what it was. Most fraternity secrets—their handshakes and members’ manuals and rituals—have gone the way of everything else in the time of the internet, and even those customs that members want to hide aren’t too hard to track down. But there really wasn’t anything at all about the Shep Test—except for this, from the national Beta organization:

Some chapters conduct the “Shep Test.” If Francis W. Shepardson, Denison 1882, one of the greatest leaders in our great and good fraternity knew that this practice was named after him he would be disgraced. This act is in direct violation of our third principle and second and third obligations. It contradicts everything Beta Theta Pi stands for.

It seemed to me—based on the fact that I could find nothing else about it—that the Shep Test had truly been eliminated. Or so I thought, until I read the grand jury’s presentment of the Piazza case. Text messages from members’ cellphones had been entered into evidence, and included this exchange between two brothers at the time of the fall 2016 initiation:

Casey: We were setting up
Torrye: Setting what up?
Casey: Like the shep test and the fake branding
Torrye: Ohh
Casey: I in charge of administering the shep test
Torrye: What happens first
Casey: Fake branding

And from the next night:

Casey: It starting … We have them wait in the boiler room after the shep test until we set up paddling

As people have since explained it to me, the Shep Test itself is little more than a quiz about Beta Theta Pi history, but it’s one part of a night of mind games and physical punishments. A former Beta told me that pledges were held down on a table as a red-hot poker was brought close to their bare feet and they were told they were going to be branded. With pillowcases over their heads, they were paddled, leaving bruises and, on at least one occasion, breaking the skin. They were forced to eat and drink disgusting things, denied sleep, and terrorized in a variety of other ways.

Jud Horras called me back and proposed something surprising: He would fly to Los Angeles for a day to meet with me in the lobby of an airport hotel. I said it was a pity to come all that way and not see the beach, so I would pick him up and take him to breakfast at Hermosa Beach, where he couldn’t shake me if my questions got too difficult. He was coming out to show that he had nothing to hide, but I knew he was not prepared for the hardest question I had for him, which I would return to over and over again: Why hadn’t Beta Theta Pi taken the simple, obvious steps that would have saved Tim Piazza’s life?

Jud Horras is a young man with a wife and a small son and daughter, and if Tim Piazza were alive and well—if he’d gone home to his apartment that night plastered but with a story to tell—I would have fully enjoyed my time with him. He grew up in Ames, Iowa, and spent summers working on a farm—rare for fraternity members, who are more often suburban kids of relative affluence. His parents divorced, and he lived with his father and brother; by his own estimation, he “made mistakes” in high school. When he began at Iowa State, he was a lost young man, arrogant and insecure. But Beta Theta Pi turned his life around. He learned—via, of all things, a college fraternity—how to exert self-control. Mentors—among them Senator Richard Lugar, a fellow Beta, who brought him to Washington as an intern the summer before his senior year—took him under their wing, and Horras’s gratitude to these men is immense. He loves his fraternity the way some men love their church or their country.

Horras was eager to walk me through a list of talking points that he had written on a yellow legal pad during his flight. He wanted me to understand that changes were coming to the fraternity industry, that the wild drinking could not go on indefinitely. In many regards, our conversation was like other such conversations I’ve had with fraternity executives over the years. He was willing to acknowledge problems in the fraternity, but not to connect certain of its customs to any particular death. At the national level, all fraternities vehemently prohibit hazing, and spend tremendous energy and money trying to combat it. But according to the most comprehensive study of college hazing, published in 2008 by a University of Maine professor named Elizabeth Allan, a full 80 percent of fraternity members report being hazed. It’s not an aberration; it’s the norm.

I asked Horras why no one at Beta Theta Pi had done anything about all the bad behavior those cameras must have recorded over the years since the reopening of the chapter. He said that no one could be expected to watch every single minute of film. He said that at some point, you have to trust young men to make the right decisions. What Beta Theta Pi had done for him as a young man, he suggested, was allow him to make some poor decisions until he started to turn around and become the man he wanted to be. Giving members the freedom to do that was part of what the fraternity was about. If they screwed up and got caught—well, that was on them. As for the death of Tim Piazza, while it constituted “a tragedy for him and his family,” it would provide the industry with the impetus needed to make some necessary reforms. In fact, his death was a “golden opportunity.”Then I asked Horras about the Shep Test, and why it endured, despite the effort that had gone into eradicating it. He interrupted me: “Wait a minute. That test doesn’t happen anymore. We have testimonials instead, where pledges can—”

“But it’s in the presentment,” I said, and he looked at me, baffled. “One kid asks where the pledges were, and the other one says they’re waiting in the boiler room after the Shep Test.”

It was clear in that moment—and as he affirmed in a later email—that Horras hadn’t read the presentment very closely.

In my notebook, I wrote:

Long pause
Long pause—
Long pause

Finally he said, with consummate feeling, “I’m fucking mad that that stuff is going on.”

And then I realized why Horras was able to see the torture and death of a 19-year-old kid as a golden opportunity: He didn’t really know that much about it. I started to ask him another question, but for a few moments he seemed lost.

“Am I just fighting for a bunch of idiots?” he asked.

Ivisited Jim and Evelyn Piazza on a lush New Jersey evening in July, when a summer rain was falling on the wide lawns and large houses of their neighborhood in Hunterdon County, one of the wealthiest areas in the United States.

Jim and Evelyn, who are both accountants, had been at work. . .

Continue reading. It’s difficult to read, but I think it shows something of what’s gone wrong: the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility, the way organizations seek only to protect themselves (much as businesses seek only to grow profits). Interest in honesty, integrity, and doing what is right seems to be but a vague memory.

Another indicator.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 2:55 pm

5 takeaways about gigging in a blues band (when you’re an academician)

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Julia Simon (pictured above) writes at Oxford University Press blog:

For the last 16 years, I have been “supplementing” my day job as a professor by gigging in blues bands. There are advantages–that are also disadvantages–to the double life.

1. The Hours: Gigs are usually booked on weekends and evenings and don’t interfere with classes or meetings, but sometimes they run late into the night. In many college towns, the most popular drinking night is Thursday. In fact, I never saw as many students out and about in town as when I was packing up for a regular 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. gig in State College, PA. Students were everywhere, drinking, partying, falling down, and reveling, even in the snow. The down side to late night gigs is obvious: waking up early on Friday mornings when you get to bed at 2:30 or 3:00 can be tough, but there are unusual advantages to staying up late. First, you understand why your students have hacking coughs or fall asleep in class on Fridays and, therefore, are far less gullible about excuses. But oddly enough, Friday morning becomes the ideal time to schedule contentious meetings. Bleary and tired from playing until 1 and getting to bed late, Friday mornings I was often calm and patient, if slow to respond. I even deliberately scheduled a regular meeting of a senate committee I chaired on a sensitive, hot button issue at 8 a.m. Fridays because I knew that I would react slowly and keep my cool. As counterintuitive as it may seem, late night hours gigging can help productivity.

2. The People: Academics travel in restricted circles and don’t always have a chance to meet people outside of their regular orbits. Gigging forces you into unfamiliar circumstances that can be both beneficial and downright terrifying. On the positive side, you become aware of businesses (bars, restaurants, tap rooms) and how they function and connect with social networks in your community that you would otherwise never know about. You play county fairs, sleazy bars, fundraisers for bikers, as well as restaurants, tasting rooms, and popular drinking establishments. How else would I have ever learned that Alcoholics-Anonymous-style biker groups raise money for childhood burn victims (“send the burnt kids to camp”) or that winemaking is often a sideline for folks, like gigging is for me? The human connections include bandmates found on Craig’s List. Band members (and departmental colleagues) are like family members — you love them and you hate them. Problems with alcohol, pornography, anger, or a belief that you were abducted and probed by extraterrestrials all eventually surface. Meeting and interacting with a wider circle of people grounds me and, I believe, makes me a better teacher and colleague. At the very least, a little hardened by the road, certain looks of surprise and astonishment definitely cross my face less frequently in faculty meetings.

3. The Places:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 10:28 am

1,000+ MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Getting Started in October: Enroll Today

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Dan Colman of Open Culture rounds up some of the open courses now starting:

In many parts of the world, the school year is now officially in session. For kids. And for you. In October, 1,000+ MOOCs(Massive Open Online Courses)will be getting underway, giving you the chance to take free courses from top flight universities. With the help of Class Central, we’ve pulled together a complete list of October MOOCS. And below we’ve highlighted several courses that piqued our interest, including Buddhism and Modern Psychology (see video above) taught by bestselling author Robert Wright (Why Buddhism Is True), and Effective Altruism presented by eminent philosopher Peter Singer.

Here’s one tip to keep in mind: If you want to take a course for free, select the “Full Course, No Certificate” or “Audit” option when you enroll. If you would like an official certificate documenting that you have successfully completed the course, you will need to pay a fee.

You can browse through the complete list of October MOOCs here.

A description of one of the courses:

Written by LeisureGuy

2 October 2017 at 7:48 am

Posted in Education

Heterosexuals Deserve Our Support

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Lisa Pryor writes in the NY Times:

Australians are currently deciding whether our laws should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, and the debate is proving to be only one degree more civilized than a cage fight. Surveys have been mailed to voters all over the country by the government, asking them to tick yes or no to this proposal.

Understandably some people are nervous, given that same-sex marriage has been introduced only in Belgium, Canada, Argentina, France, Denmark, Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Britain and a bunch of other countries. We do not yet have long-term data on whether same-sex marriage will cause these societies to collapse, or the gates of hell to open.

Australia’s same-sex marriage survey is not compulsory and the result is not binding on the government. And yet it is having a profound effect on the national mood and conversation, as the kind of ideas that might usually be voiced only by a racist old uncle after a few too many Scotches have become legitimate topics of public policy debate.

Last week on a national current-affairs program, a business leader put the argument for the “no” case using race as an analogy, saying, “A black man and a white man are equal, but they’re clearly different. A black man will never be a white man, and vice versa.” Airtime has been handed over to plaintive warnings that same-sex marriage will usher in a gender-fluid fascist state, in which boys can wear dresses to school and homophobic bakeries are forced to produce lesbian wedding cakes. Nice work, Australia.

As the conversation ranges — hurtfully for so many same-sex couples — over gender, marriage and parenting, let’s imagine for a moment that there is value in examining such issues unflinchingly, free from the yoke of political correctness, no matter how hurtful it might be to the sensibilities of some. In this spirit I would like to consider frankly an aspect of the debate not adequately covered so far: heterosexuality.

Difficult as it might be to admit, there is some evidence that in an ideal world, and with all things being equal, one particular family arrangement does appear to have a slight advantage when it comes to raising children. Of course I am speaking about lesbian parenting, which multiple studies have shown confers certain advantages on children.

For example, in the United States National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, teenagers of lesbian mothers were reported to do better socially and academically than other teenagers, and had fewer problems with rule-breaking and aggression.

Other research suggests such advantages may apply to same-sex parents generally. Results of an Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex families, published in 2014, show that children raised by same-sex partners score higher than the general population on measures of general health and family cohesion.

We do not live in a perfect world in which every child has access to this ideal. Regardless of what laws we have in place, the reality of contemporary society is that it includes a wide variety of family types, including families headed by heterosexual couples.

We know that many of these children have not had the good fortune of being the result of the careful planning and commitment that naturally flows from methods of conception used by same-sex couples.

Though you will rarely read about it in literature promoting the heterosexual lifestyle, in many heterosexual families children are conceived as an accident, euphemistically known in the heterosexual community as a “surprise.”

Worse still, heterosexual pregnancies typically come about as a direct result of a particular sex act heterosexual adults engage in for the purpose of their own pleasure. Despite years of warnings, public-education campaigns and public-health expenditure, heterosexual couples continue to indulge in this practice knowing full well the consequences and without apparent regard for the cost to society.

Putting aside the public’s understandable frustration with this behavior, we must acknowledge that many heterosexual parents prove themselves to be very much focused on the job of raising healthy children and put in a tremendous effort to achieve this. A majority of heterosexuals live purposeful and upstanding lives, working hard in a range of professions and paying taxes. Many things about heterosexuality may not be ideal, but these are on the whole good people who deserve our support.

Of course good will alone cannot overcome some of the challenges that the children of these people will face. And just think of how awkward it can become for heterosexual parents, as their children grow, develop ideas of their own, and start to ask difficult questions.

When children of gay couples ask where they came from, an accurate and age-appropriate answer can readily be provided, a story as clean as the tale of the stork, involving love, commitment, medicine and science.

Not so for children with heterosexual parents. In most cases, innocent young children have to be exposed to the concept of sexual intercourse to understand how they came to be, in the primitive manner of animals. Even worse, they are exposed to the concept that this sexual intercourse occurred between their parents. This is something no child wants to hear, and many children find it utterly disgusting.

The presence of heterosexual families in schools also exposes gay families to these unpleasant concepts. Gay families may be forced through exposure to straight families in the schoolyard to explain sexual intercourse at a time before any of them feel ready, especially as some parents flaunt their heterosexuality for all to see.

Despite all the hurdles that heterosexual families face, it is my strong belief that they should be allowed to continue to exist. I am myself married to the father of my children. Some of my best friends are heterosexual, and I can tell you they are great people, raising their children as best they can. They should be allowed to continue to marry and continue to raise children on one strict proviso — that they do not prevent those who are not heterosexual from doing the same. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2017 at 7:55 pm

Fascinating story of competition among flavored-toothpick cartels in grade school

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Just read it. It seems pretty clear that the whole thing was a control issue. Schools do tend to be authoritarian, one of their drawbacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 4:25 pm

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