Betsy DeVos’ confirmation was a defeat, but the greater battle for America’s future continues

Fighting Donald Trump’s agenda is a war, and there will be both victories and defeats

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos (image credit: Slate)

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos (image credit: Slate)

Today the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. She’s one of the least qualified people who has ever been nominated to the position, and she demonstrated such during her confirmation hearing. And for those of us who reject vouchers for private religious schools, who support children with special needs, who want to keep guns out of schools, and who support teaching our children critical thinking skills, this was undoubtedly a loss. And a painful loss at that.

But as with any conflict, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

As painful as the DeVos confirmation is, it’s only a skirmish in the greater war. The greater battle is stopping DeVos from implementing Donald’s education agenda. Continue reading

woMAN; Woe, man; Whoa! Man.

By Tamara Enz

CATEGORY: American CultureWhen I was in third grade, the elementary school principal came into our class to speak with the students. I don’t now remember what the primary reason was for his visit; what I remember is only a fragment of his lecture.

He stood at the chalkboard and wrote in large letters:

M A N

Stepping to the side so everyone in the class could see the letters, he said, “Without man,” he stepped back to the board and wrote “wo” before completing his sentence, “you cannot have woman.”

On the board was the word:

wo MAN

Almost 50 years later, I can still see this man saying these words, spewing ignorance and sexism across a new generation of children. Continue reading

The war over words

Politicians have always sought the power to control the meaning of language. But now this open warfare has raced past reprehensible to dangerous for democracy.

language-has-powerIn the vicious descent to American unexceptionalism that politicians and their rich supporters are hellbent on winning (common folk and consequences be damned), the election has become a continuing chase for the authority to control language.

That’s what modern power has become: the ability to define a word, and to prevent others from doing so. Politicians rarely make coherent arguments any more; they instead try to co-opt the meanings of words. That’s why debates have been nonsensical: Candidates may utter the same words, but the meanings they assign to those words are vastly different.

Consider just one particular word. Continue reading

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Roy Spencer calls climate scientists and activists “global warming Nazis”

Roy Spencer’s rant on climate change “deniers” vs. “global warming Nazis” indicates that his signature achievements are in the past.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

There was a point when climate scientist Roy Spencer was widely respected for essentially inventing the method that scientists use to measure the Earth’s temperature from satellites. But since the early 1990s, Spencer’s reputation has suffered a number of self-inflicted injuries. For example, Spencer’s evangelical faith has led him to reject evolution in favor of intelligent design. And he’s been quick to conclude that global warming is overblown while only reluctantly accepting corrections that have nearly always shown his conclusions were biased cold. In short, Spencer has demonstrated that he is no longer able to separate his biases from his science.

But Spencer’s post calling climate experts and global warming activists “global warming Nazis” in response to being called a “denier” of global warming indicates that Spencer – who has been called to testify before Congress at least three times – has finally gone completely off the rails. Continue reading

Guns, knives, pit bulls and the new Gallup poll

CATEGORY: GunsThis morning I walked past a man about my age, sixty, who was wearing camouflage and a fatigue-style cap. He had two Bowie knives on his belt and was walking a ferocious-looking pit bull that had to weigh eighty pounds.

My immediate thought was, “Who’s this guy and what’s he afraid of?”

Who knows? Maybe he’s got good reason to be afraid. Maybe he’s in witness protection and the Mafia just put his home address up on their Facebook page. Or he just started a Salman Rushdie fan club. Or he’s a disguised federal prosecutor from Texas.

But I doubt it. I suspect he’s an extreme example of a surprisingly large group of people who are paranoid, perhaps not in clinical psychological terms, but in a not-quite-right sort of way. He’s obviously afraid of something, and whatever it is might show up at any minute on a quiet residential street in a nice small town like Bloomington, Indiana.

I’ve spent much of my life around poor and poorly educated white people and have met many folks who remind me of this guy. I’ve had them proudly pull handguns out from under their car seats and when I asked why they needed guns in their cars, the generic answer is they want to be ready in case somebody “messes with them.”

Who are the somebodies that’re going to mess with them, I always wonder?

I’ve asked that, too.

Sometimes the answer is enemies of the U.S. It’s hard to see how Muslims, or Russians, or Mexican cartels are going to mount an attack in the U.S., especially in central Indiana, but it’s always possible I suppose. No doubt those Bowie knives will scare a Spetsnaz or mujahedeen with an AK-47 right back to whatever unpronounceable place they came from.

Sometimes the answer is the government. However, most of the paranoid people I know are right-wingers. If the government helicopters ever do come, it’s far more likely they will have Christian crosses on the side and be coming not for righties, but rather for lefties like me. The great victory of the Nixon Youth has proven not to be a successful ideology that won most Americans over to their way of thinking, but rather a concerted and successful plan to infiltrate and take over the U.S. military. Motto: If we can’t convince ‘em, we can still kill ‘em.

Sometimes it’s their neighbors who might mess with them. This isn’t so silly a fear. According to the FBI, there are over a million violent crimes per year in the U.S. That means on average, a citizen has a one in 300 chance of being assaulted, raped or murdered each year, which says that one in four people will be assaulted, raped or murdered in their lifetimes. Now, of course, most of the people being assaulted tend to be young minority men in urban areas, not college-educated white people who live in the suburbs. But the man with the pit bull didn’t look well-to-do, and it’s entirely possible he lives in one of those neighborhoods.

Sometimes it’s people of color who will invade their homes in the night. According to hot-off-the-shelf Gallup data, 43% of Americans own and keep a gun in the home (I’m one of them.) Of these, 67% own one for self-protection (I’m not one of them.) Obviously, there’s a real fear here. Perhaps In Cold Blood scared the shit out an entire generation. It’s hard to say how real the perceived home invasion threat is. There are no reliable statistics on how many occur each year. Violent home invasions are probably relatively rare. But they happen and they are horrible. When they do happen, it’s usually to the poor and vulnerable. My mother was the victim of a violent home invasion by a man of color.

So the guy with the knives could be afraid of lots of things. Mujahedeen. The government. Neighbors. Strangers that come in the night.

Or not. I suspect President Obama had it right back in 2008. What people like the man I saw walking his dog really have to fear is that the world is leaving them behind. They lack the skills and education to catch up. The world economy is messing with them, it ain’t gonna stop, and they should be afraid. They can’t easily buy cheap protection against economic trends, so they arm themselves in the ways they can. They cling to defenses they know against threats they don’t.

I once worked on a dredge in Louisiana, a mammoth crane on a barge that dug canals through the delta. The digging was done by what’s known as a clam bucket which hangs by thick wire ropes from a boom. The bucket had two inch thick steel walls and was eight feet tall and big enough to put a half-dozen men in.

One day the bucket took a big mouthful of dirt and water and snagged a muskrat. The small animal was caught by one leg, and it hung there suspended fifty feet in the air, frantically trying to push open the bucket with its other foot. Kenneth, the operator, opened the bucket and let it go. He laughed about it for weeks, the idea of a muskrat trying to outmuscle a giant machine. He’d mimic the muskrat, contorting his face and imitating the animal’s frantic efforts.

Of course, if you’re a muskrat, and some giant force from the sky suddenly grabs you in massive steel jaws, you have to bite and push, because that’s all you know to do.

If you’re poor, you buy knives and pit bulls.

Unsolicited movie review: "Liberal Arts"

Our oldest daughter went to Kenyon College in Ohio, and we’ve always loved the place. Its campus is one of the most beautiful spots on the face of the earth, especially early on a summer morning with the morning mist burning off, which is what it was like the first time we visited. We’ve always had warm feelings about the place, and about the importance of the kind of liberal arts education it offers. So, apparently, does Kenyon alum Josh Radnor, whose movie, “Liberal Arts,” is a love letter to Kenyon, to this education, and, more broadly, to the arts themselves. Especially books. This is a movie about books, of all things, about the transformative power of literature, a love letter to books. How on earth did this move even get made?
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GOP convention spared, God turns his judgment on Louisiana: what the hell is He mad about THIS time?

A few days it looked like The Lord Thy God was a’fixin’ to smite the Republican National Convention. Now, though, His Wrath has veered out over open water, picking up steam and drawing a bead on … no, seriously? Again? … New Orleans. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of Him here – The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, works in mysterious ways, and for all we know Hurricane Isaac might wind up smiting Kalispell before all is said and done. Continue reading

Penn State deserves the "death penalty" – they forgot their mission

<by Rafael Noboa y Rivera

Should Penn State’s football program receive the “death penalty”? The NCAA – far more swiftly than most expected – is set to hand down its decision at 9 AM Eastern, so by the time you read this, we will already know what the sentence will be.

I say sentence, because thanks to the Freeh Report, the university has already been found guilty, if only in the court of public morality.

Many of my friends — some with very close ties to Happy Valley, whether as alumni, fans or residents — have vehemently disagreed with me through the course of the scandal. Continue reading

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, recent college grad. It tolls for thee.

by Evans Mehew

Rifling through Google News this morning, I saw numerous headlines reporting layoffs affecting corporations (HP, Timberland, T-Mobile USA, etc.) and local governments. Spring has sprung, and economic recovery beckons … safety and security for all is just around the corner.

Not.

As Americans in the 21st century, we (luckily) live in a society/culture that values education. It’s revered, sitting right up there with other pillars of our society, such as American Idol, Facebook and Angry Birds. One might argue that the pursuit of education should be a lifelong mindest and worldview, rather than a set activity for a specific amount of time whose tangible output is a piece of paper … but never mind about that. For now, we’ll just focus our attention upon the piece of paper. Continue reading

An important life lesson, courtesy of Facebook and Amendment One

Facebook reminded me of an important lesson this morning.

When I was young, I was an idiot. A well-intentioned idiot, to be sure. And in my defense, it must be said that I was probably less of an idiot than most kids my age. But still, I look back on the things I did, the things I believed, the insecurities and the ignorance and the utter five-alarm cluelessness that once ruled my life like a petulant child emperor and I can’t help being embarrassed. I know, kids will be kids, and it’s true that there were moments of rampant joy that I will likely never equal again. Still.

Through the years I have learned. Lots. I’ve seen more of my country and even a bit of the world beyond, although not enough. I’ve met people from just about everywhere and gotten to know them a little. Continue reading

Why America has more education and less to show for it than ever before

I hope you made the time to read Wufnik’s post from Friday. Entitled “Surrounded by people ‘educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought,’” his analysis of our culture’s “active willingness to be deceived” represents one of the iconic moments in S&R’s history. If you didn’t see it yet, go read it now.

In addition to the questions the post explicitly addresses, it also raises other critical issues that deserve equally rigorous treatment. One point for further consideration, for instance, lies in his use of the word “educated.” I don’t think it’s terribly controversial to suggest that our society is, by a variety of metrics, more educated than perhaps any society in history. Those metrics would include factors like “number of people who attended college.” At the same time, we are significantly less educated if we pay more attention to factors like the much harder to quantify “capacity for critical thought.” Continue reading

Empowerment and education: Why young people don't vote

by Matthew Record

“In the immediate aftermath of the Twenty-sixth Amendment’s passage, nearly eleven million new voters joined the general electorate. Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

In Defense of "Jesus Glasses"

Jesus Glassesby James Corbett

The facts of my case are fairly simple. Chad Farnan, a 15-year-old self-described Christian fundamentalist student in my Advanced Placement European History class, sued me for a “pattern” of statements unconstitutionally hostile to religion. His claim was based on hours of illegal and surreptitious recordings.

In my attorney’s opinion, the law was on our side, so he advised me to seek a summary judgment. I now believe that was a critical error because when a defendant requests a summary judgment rather than a jury trial, the law requires that all the facts presented by the plaintiff be accepted as truthful. No fact may be disputed, only the law. My attorney believed a fair application of the Lemon test would turn in my favor, but the test fails in a case such as mine both as a matter of law and of logic. Had I gone to court, I could easily have demonstrated that Chad and his mother are Continue reading

Of Mice and Men…and more mice

by Terry Hargrove

It’s the beginning of March, and if I was teaching somewhere, which I am not, I would be teaching poetry right about now. There was always a brief window to teach poetry, before the sun rose too high, and I lost my charges to fun and crap like that. So the beginning of March was perfect. Cold, clammy, death-like March, the season of grief and sonnets.

And it was always a hard sell. In middle school, I typically introduced my middle school students to real poetry. For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve waded past Shel Silverstein and into the murky metaphoric waters beyond. It’s also when I am inevitably tricked into reading large tracts of adolescent poetry written about old boyfriends or girlfriends or others “who have done me wrong.” Continue reading

All is not well in Ann Arbor

The circus of failure that’s three years old now continues in Ann Arbor. It’s painful to watch the disintegration of a once proud football program, but that’s what this is. I’m not the most avid football fan anymore, but i was raised to be one. Specifically, a Michigan football fan. And i’ve always considered myself a lucky Michigan football fan. Thanks to my grandmother’s mid-life BFA at the UofM, my family had season seats when i was little. Imagine being a five year old at Michigan Stadium sitting in the row behind the band…and the trombone section no less. I was there for the video below. I remember chaos as the band tried to turn their hats and play “The Victors” while 100,000 people went absolutely crazy.


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Nota Bene #118: VOTE!

“I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

When professors attack (each other): a response to "What exactly is a doctorate?"

A friend and colleague passed along a Gizmodo article today entitled “What exactly is a doctorate?” First, take a second to look it over, and make sure you sift through the comments, as well, because I think they’re important to the point I want to make.

I’ll begin by acknowledging three important things. First, the writer (Dr. Matt Might of the University of Utah) is intending a humorous take on an institution that’s pure arcana to the average American non-PhD. Heck, it can be pretty arcane to those who have PhDs (or are in the process of earning them). Since he prefaces the piece by saying this is something he uses on his own doc students every year, it’s safe to assume that it’s not intended as a body slam against education. And humor is valuable – we never get anywhere worth going by taking ourselves too seriously.

Second, It’s hard to deny that some PhDs are laboring away to very little effect. Continue reading