Thursday, March 27, 2014

unionizing college athletes

So apparently this is going to be a thing.

Well, I say, let's sit back and watch the unintended consequences roll in.....

1. Possible loss of amateur status

2. IRS wanting to treat their scholarships as "income"

2a. The fact that then, arguably, some of the athletes will make a higher "salary" (on paper) than some of their profs

3. The possibility of them going on strike (??? no idea if that's possible)

4. Their time getting eaten up even more than it is now by union meetings

5. Their having dues go to some union boss.

This actually might be a good education for some of these kids.

It won't affect me because I teach at a public uni (and one with such poor teams, by and large, that it wouldn't be worth unionizing them).

But I do remember that the old "may you live in interesting times" was actually intended as a curse...

Monday, March 24, 2014

some thoughts on current news

I've been troubled by the existence of a particular Kansas-based group that claims to be a "church" since I first heard about them. For one thing, it seems to me that they make the job of other Christians harder - people looking for a reason to dislike or dismiss or snark on that faith can bring up this so-called "Baptist" group as an example.

When they really aren't. When they are really pretty much the opposite pole of what a lot of Christians believe and want to do.

It also bothers me that they seem to want to exploit people in deep grief for....what? Their own agenda, their own attention, to get on the evening news? What good does it do anyone to throw salt in the wounds someone is suffering because their son, or their husband, or their brother (or their daughter, wife, sister) was killed while in military service?

I prefer not to add to the burden of sadness that already exists in the world.

And yes, there are bright lights: the Patriot Guard, for example (one semester I had a student who was a biker, and he volunteered with them when he cold. I was proud of him for that). Or the other people who form a human screen between the protestors and the family and try to protect the family from the ugliness.

But of course the group in question is back in the news because their founder (who was also apparently "excommunicated" at some point) died last week.

I'm hoping he found grace and mercy far exceeding what he seems to have shown here on Earth. And if it's not too awful of me, that he now regrets the way he behaved.

But I also found myself thinking this morning, in that sort of half-awake state when you first get up, of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. A recap: there was a very wealthy man, in a time and a place where there was really no social safety net, so the disabled or indigent had to rely on family or on the kindness of people in their town to survive. Lazarus was such a man; he apparently had a skin condition that made it impossible for him to work (he was probably ritually unclean, was the implication, I guess). The dogs would come and lick his sores (ugh). He would sit outside the rich man's gate and beg. The rich man could have helped Lazarus by letting him have the scraps from his table - but even that was too much for the rich man to do.

Eventually, as happens to all humans, Lazarus died. As the text states, he was taken to the bosom of his father Abraham - because he suffered here in this life (and also, in some commentaries, he was someone who trusted and relied upon God), he wound up in a pretty nice afterlife.

Then the rich man died. And he wound up going to "the other place" (as we used to call it when I was a kid). He's suffering. He calls upon Abraham and asks him to send Lazarus (not only is this rich man uncaring towards others; he retains a giant sense of entitlement even past the grave - considering he expects the former beggar outside his gates to bring him water) with a drop of water to cool the rich man's burning tongue. Nope, is Abraham's reply. Can't be done.

So then the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to the rich man's remaining family, to warn them to change their ways, lest they suffer the same fate as the rich man. Again, Abraham says no, it can't be done. And besides, Abraham adds, they have the Law and the Prophets; do they not read them? And the rich man explains that just as he didn't regard the Law or Prophets when he was alive, they do not. And Abraham argues that if they won't listen to the existing scripture, they will not be convinced by Lazarus....

And I find myself wondering if that founder is now casting about, wishing someone could be sent to his family, to tell them that they're going about it wrong, that they will not help anyone by telling everyone they're doomed and sinful and going to Hell, and instead they need to do something differently.

I don't know. It just frustrates me, how that group behaves.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Ran across this little information-dump: Pot isn't so green, after all
I saw the last image in that list, and my first thought was: "I don't smoke pot. So can I have my incandescent bulbs back, please?"

(I really, really dislike CFLs. I haven't yet tried LEDs, which my parents tell me give better light, because they're SO EXPENSIVE and I sincerely doubt they will last as long as claimed).

I don't know. The little-l libertarian part of me says, "I don't give a flip if someone smokes pot, as long as they don't get out on the road after doing so (or as long as they don't show up stoned to my lab class the week we're using hazardous chemicals)" but I do think there are going to be serious unintended consequences to legalizing it for recreational use.

There are a few legislators in my state eyeing it as a possible tax cash-cow, and while normally I am all about taxes I can choose not to pay (like playing the lottery), I just think it would be better for all other states considering legalization to wait five or ten years and watch what happens in Colorado.

I also worry that legalization for recreational use will lead to more pot-users, and more users losing their jobs, and possibly disability claims of "I can't work because I 'have' to smoke pot and no one will hire me now" and then the rest of us will be on the hook to take care of those folks. I don't know how likely that is but it's something that makes me uncomfortable.

Also, I want the right to throw students who are high out of my class. I had to do it once with a drunk student; he stumbled in boasting loudly about how he was at a bachelor party the night before and was "still really hammered" and it was a week we were going to be dissecting starfish, and I just didn't want him taking a fingertip off with the scalpel, so I told him that he had to leave, that he obviously wasn't "feeling well." (Luckily, he did, without too much issue. And I knew he lived in the dorm, so it wasn't an issue of him driving somewhere.)

But I will say: I don't want any self-righteous pothead claiming how his habit is "better for mother Earth" than whatever habits I have (tea, chocolate, buying fabric....)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Laughing so I don't....well, you know.

I had contemplated giving up paying attention to world news for Lent, but now maybe that's not such a hot idea. I might wake up some morning and find the world had blown up while I wasn't looking.

I find myself wondering if we are poised to revisit the nineteen-teens, or the eighteen-fifties. I love learning about history, just not first-hand.

Yes, and yes.

Over the weekend, half-listening to another one of the endless "Is college worth it?" debates, I realized something:

"This is a mommy-wars issue."

In other words: it's one where each side stakes out their turf, makes the other side look as bad as possible, and uses hyperbole to defend their own turf. When, in reality, both sides are right sometimes, and wrong sometimes.

Yes, kids do better when there is a dedicated adult to stay home and care for them. But in some cases, the mom may not be the best adult to do that. (In my own family: my brother's career is more flexible right now, so most of the time, he is at home with my niece). In some families, a grandparent may suit better. Some moms just aren't as maternal, in some cases stepping off the career track might unfortunately mean she could never get back on, there might be financial constraints, so on and so forth. So it's not pure evil that some moms work instead of staying home. But it's also not true that stay at home moms are drags on the economy who don't contribute: stay at home parents have tremendously hard jobs, and they work longer hours, I dare say, than someone like me who doesn't have dependents but works full time outside the house.

But anyway. I see a similar situation with the "Is college worth it" argument. The answer is in some cases yes, and in some cases no. Or, "is it better to go to college or to get on the job training or become an entrepreneur?" Yes and yes and yes, depending on where your talents and interests lie.

It seems like debating "the value of college" as if it were an absolute yes-or-no question generates a lot of heat but very little light.

To hear some speak: encouraging some students to take a path other than college is tantamount to those old Communist countries that pre-determined everyone's careers and you had no choice. You're condemning someone to the life of being a Delta! Everyone should have a shot at being an Alpha!

No. Not everyone wants that. I once had a student who confessed to me that he was "trying" to flunk out of college so his parents would stop pressuring him and would let him work construction, which was what he really wanted to do. Why should someone be forced into a role they don't want, when they are happy - and maybe very good at - another role? We always need plumbers and electricians and mechanics and all the skilled trades: and those trades CAN'T be outsourced; you cannot send your car over to India to get its engine fixed.

And if someone who is in a trade or other career WANTS to take classes for his or her own enrichment, that's always possible. I admit, I harbor a secret fantasy of a nation of people where plumbers read poetry in their spare time and dentists have an interest in ancient history. Where people value learning stuff because it's FUN, not just because it gets them some bigger better credential that they can parlay into a raise or wave in someone's face. I realize that the current state of our society makes that unlikely, and that most people care more about what Robin Thicke is doing than what Shakespeare wrote, but whatever.

But to hear others speak - college is a waste of time and money, it's only "indoctrination," we need to destroy the system and the faster the better. And this attitude scares me. I've been known to talk back to those talking heads on the TV, saying, "Okay. Fine. Shut down all the universities; idle all the professors. Good luck finding a doctor or an engineer in 20 years!"

For some professions, college is essential. (And yes, I know, in the "old days," doctoring was learned by apprenticeship. But in the "old days" they also thought disease was caused by an excess of one of the four humors). Yes, there are some majors that will be harder to translate to a career - the "Anything" Studies fields, some of the more abstruse Humanities (I have a relative with a Ph.D. in medieval French poetry. He is currently teaching high-school French classes. He really wants to be a professor but these days, that takes waiting for someone to die at their desk AND the university to decide they can't outsource that teaching to adjuncts). And also, frankly, a lot of students graduate from college who aren't prepared for work. It happens, especially in the era of promotion of "retention" as an absolute virtue. And the attitudes of some of the students makes me twitch - while I haven't, thankfully, heard "D is for diploma!" quoted to me since the economic downturn (maybe some of the students are getting it, finally), still, I have an awful lot of folks who seem to want to get through doing the barest of bare minimums to get by. And frankly, since I have served on several hiring committees, people who have done the barest of bare minimums wind up on the bottom of the stack - the "We'll consider these applicants only if all of the ones who actually have internships or research experience turn us down."

And I think part of the reason that "college is now like glorified high school" (as some claim, and there is some truth to that), is that a lot of high schools - a lot of lower-level schools - aren't really doing their job.

I once had a student who didn't know how to compute an average. He stopped class DEAD and made me explain it. This guy was a junior in college (it was the first time I had had him in class). I was aghast. How does a person get through school without doing averages? I've also had students who had no grasp of fractions. I remember learning fractions in third through fifth grade, and while they didn't come easy to me at first, my mom helped - she took me in the kitchen and walked me through doubling and halving a couple recipes, and dealing with the half-cups and quarter-teaspoons and such helped me see it, and also see a *purpose* for fractions, which was probably also part of the reason I was resisting learning it.

So, the schools are partly responsible, but I suppose in some cases, if parents stepped up a bit more and pushed their kids in subjects the kids were lagging in, things might be better.

Also, colleges need to get out of the "remediation" business. If someone is unprepared, they should go back and re-take the high school class, period.

And actually, making trade schools and vocational programs and ALL those things more appealing might help with some of the unprepared-students issue. Though then again - I'm not sure how successful a mechanic you could be if you really stunk at basic math.

But it frustrates me a great deal to hear people on one side be calling for College for ALL (really? ALL? What kind of accommodations will we be expected to make for those who just aren't prepared or able or whatever?) and people on the other side seeming to suggest that college is a waste for everyone ("College for None"?).

But, more and more, I see that these hot-button issues that are shown as stark black and white on the talking-heads shows, never really are.