Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Yes, I'm still here!

I've mainly switched to Facebook and Twitter, but I do maintain this place in the event I need to post very long pieces.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Penn State, the NCAA and the future of collegiate sports

NCAA boss won't rule out death penalty for Penn St - Houston Chronicle:" In a PBS interview Monday night, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he doesn't want to "take anything off the table" if the NCAA determines penalties against Penn State are warranted."


That this is even being voiced by the NCAA is a signal that, behind the scenes, some serious players are deeply unhappy with what Penn State has done for college football. And with good reason. Raise your hand if you think that Jerry Sandusky was the only pedophile ever involved in college athletics. I thought so. There are Forces Beyond Reckoning that see the potential disaster for all collegiate sports if something isn't done. JoePa's death did not close the book on the situation; the latest revelations have made sure of that. Otherwise, supporters could with a straight face say, "Who are you kidding?! These charges drove JoePa to his grave, isn't that enough!?"

Forces Beyond Reckoning see millions of dollars at stake. Forces Beyond Reckoning are willing to sacrifice a college and a conference to save the entire eco-system. Yes, it would kill Penn State's program as surely as it killed SMU's, and yes, it would probably put a serious dent in the Big Whatever --at least until they bit the bullet and gave Notre Dame what it wants in terms of revenue sharing. But to do nothing would to be invite worse things later on. More scandals. Lawsuits. The legislature! Falling ratings!!!

The NCAA is going to crucify Penn State. They have no choice: if they don't consider this a "lack of institutional control" then they lose all legitimacy. And there is the vicious rub. Because the NCAA is about as far from a legitimate body as you can get. Never mind all that money that somehow built Cam Newton's daddy's church, and never mind how long they knew about Reggie Bush's family's perks before doing something about it, nothing truly bad happened to Auburn or to USC. And we can go back further without any real stretching.

And the truly sad thing is that this could have been the opportunity for a big-time school to say, "Screw you, NCAA! We're withdrawing and forming a new league and taking the big boys with us and now we won't have to play Twister-on-Acid to abide by the rules!" But under these circumstances, that cannot happen. To the contrary, by going for the death penalty here, the NCAA will make itself look stronger and even more legitimate in the eyes of the public.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Well I'll be…what?

Once in a blue moon, a spirit of dangerous curiosity overtakes me. I have a few sleeping dogs in my past, and once in a blue moon, I do like to ease very quietly up to the fence and peek over to make sure they are still motionless underneath the spreading oaks of my memory. Sometimes they're lazing in the sun, right where I can see them and, so reassured, I slip quietly away. Sometimes they're hiding in the shadows and I'm not quite sure if they're there or if they've gone through the hole in the fence on the other side and are quietly moving in position to bite me…

Today I found one of the dogs, hiding in the shadows underneath the tree, far out of my usual line of sight. But it's still sleeping. And then a part of me whispered that I should grab a stick and nudge the dog to see if it's a friendly dog or a bad dog. This is the same part that, as a boy, urged me to poke fire ant mounds to see how many would come out. Nudging a sleeping dog is rarely a good idea. So I will let it sleep.

And I silently resolve to avoid that part of Virginia...

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fare The Well, 2011 (worth an entire read and play)

2011 is slipping away, and I bid it farewell. The last twelve months and eleven days have been about partings in my family: first Dad, and then Mom. My brother and I are the adults in the room. Ours it is now to preserve the bits and pieces of multiple lifetimes for our own families. The winnowing will proceed for months. It is a long road.

But we do not travel it alone. Our families are close, and my own grew this year by a son. And that seems a good place to start.

I do not mourn overly. I have never been one for maudlin displays --and as a point of theology (which I will not expound upon here and now) I think it is counterproductive. My Uncle Albert buried his wife of fifty years and within a year was remarried to his soon-to-be-bride-of-twenty-five-more-years. Life moves on. Bad things happened to lots of people this year. The world has not made significant progress: springs have taken a fall, and change is what you find on the street. What occupies our attention fades and is replaced.

But move on. Unless the whole world moves backwards, you cannot advance by standing still.

I'm going out to buy fireworks now, and there will be loud noise and revelry tonight. Most of you know that this is actually my favorite holiday of the year, tied with July 4th.

And now, some lovely marching music to lead us into the New Year.

FYI: Joe and I were at this performance, as were Father and Mother.

Pro├čit Neu Jahr 2012!

Friday, December 23, 2011

In Hoc Anno Domini - (REPOST)

In Hoc Anno Domini - "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

Written in 1949. Still good today.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Tale of Two Students (and the perverse incentive to cheat)

Consider two students, both of whom are enrolled in a college class.

Both students fall woefully behind in their course work, to the point where their ability to pass is in Serious Jeopardy. And the day is the date of Last Drop and they both need to turn in a major paper, which they've had no time to complete.

Student A makes the painful decision to W the class rather than take the GPA hit. The next semester, Student A must retake the course but does so completely out-of-pocket. For Student A's financial aid is cut because Student A is no longer considered a full-time student.

Student B, believing the professor to be a short-sighted incompetent boob, copies a paper off the Internet and turns it in. But alas for Student B! The plagiarism is caught, and is so blatant and egregious (after multiple litanies to the class about the very thing) that the instructor has no choice but to record a course grade of F and deny the student access to the course for the rest of the semester. The next semester, Student B will retake the course as well, but will be given financial aid to do so. For Student B maintains a full-time load and is considered a full-time student.

What's wrong with this picture? Student A is penalized for doing right, and Student B is being incentivized to cheat. Most student grants specify completion hours, and a grade of F indicates a completed course, regardless of circumstance. Some colleges (my own included do have a grade of FX, indicating a student who quit attending after the date of withdrawal and who will be denied financial aid in the future (obviously the student was trying to game the system...) But they are not the majority. And colleges have no incentive beyond their reputations to challenge the system, as government funding is based on completion rates.

If you incentivize a behavior, expect more of it. My students don't even bother to try to deny cheating any more, they just try to give justifications and then beg to be allowed to stay in class: I can't afford to drop the course. Sadly, I think I hurt them more by saving their GPA with a Withdrawn than by giving the used-to-be-shameful grade of F.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Darth Mojo Teaches The Great Depression

So there I was today, lecturing over the causes of the Great Depression, when one of my more perceptive students had a Light Bulb Moment and began making comparisons to the economic crisis of 2007 and beyond. "Good, good..." I intoned. Class discussion became lively and animated at this point. Students began to make connections and I even was asked for an explanation of my approach; for what it's worth I am now publicly self-identified as an Austrian.

But it was after class that things got interesting. The same student who shared the epiphany with me asked me about why we don't hear about more comparisons to the 1930s and the causes of the Depression from historians. Then I got asked where to find more material along the lines I was presenting.

Instantly I responded, "Not from a Jedi..."

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years (minus one hour) Ago

It was another day riding herd at my school (the one public school I actually enjoyed, even though i was teaching Geography and not History). A fight had broken out in the cafeteria that morning and the usual vibes of the chest-thumpers were still reverbing in the halls. My phone vibrated and it was a text from my brother: a plane has crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers. My very first thought was that it was a rehash of the 1945 B-25 Incident at the Empire State Building. It was a strange and sad curiosity, but probably nothing more.

Then the word came about the second plane, and my next thought was of Osama bin Laden. Even back then, I had been worried that this random nut job would try to pull a stunt like this in retaliation for the failed Clinton cruise-missile strikes of 1999, which in turn was retaliation for the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Well, he did it. And the rest of the day was spent dealing with the aftermath.

Parents ran to school to get their kids. Then kids began calling their parents to come and get them --it was a grand excuse for a holiday for many of them. Counselors emailed us with orders not to watch the news in class because it would upset the kids --and then to turn it back on so that the kids wouldn't be upset by not knowing what was going on. One kid was laughing about how many people got killed and if more planes would hit. I pointedly reminded him that he wouldn't be laughing if his own mother were in one of those buildings. And in the back of my head, i knew I'd have to spend the next several weeks talking about Afghanistan. And Islam. And yes, tolerance. Liberals' heads may explode about how our local state board of education has Rightened the curriculum, but they conveniently forget how Leftmatized it had been since the early 1990s, and it got worse in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. Tolerance, diversity and acceptance became the orders of the day after the initial burst of patriotism. The idea of fighting evil was discouraged. I did not blame any Muslim student for these attacks, for I knew better. But administrators everywhere gave instruction after instruction about sensitivity --as if a student might suddenly go jihadi and attack his classmates. Isn't that just as damaging, ultimately, as the assumption that all Muslims are terrorists? But questions that violate groupthink were not allowed.

I tried not to think of the families. It was simply too much. After Pearl Harbor, news of the ultimate death toll was censored for weeks, lest the full extent of the Japanese attack demoralize the war effort. We do not live in such an age now. The dead are used as agitprops by all and sundry. May they have peace instead.

Ten years later we are not done experiencing the reverberations of 9/11, nor will we be done in another ten, or even fifty. But for a brief moment, be silent. Be respectful. And remember that evil exists and it is for we the living to stand our ground and to see that it does not win.

And go love your loved ones.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Spending Is Nuts

Courtesy of the nice folks at Power Line, this video has just won their contest for best explaining the debt. Enjoy!

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