Saturday, July 18, 2009

Russian roulette, American Style

In Friday’s New York Times, Dick Cavett describes his professional encounters with the late Richard Burton, who appeared on Cavett’s talk show in 1980, despite the actor’s fear of audiences, I guess. (See Who’s Afraid of Richard Burton?)

Cavett describes Burton’s first program entrance, which inspired noisy and sustained applause, thus giving the actor needed encouragement.

The “sedate” PBS studio audience, he wrote, “went nuts.”

Then, in parentheses, Cavett adds:
Happily, this was taped before the later craze of piercing, high-pitched cries and shrieks from talk show audiences that have replaced applause as we knew it. Today, when a guest — of whatever high or low consequence — steps out, the air is ripped with screaming. Why? Who started this?


It doesn’t much matter who started this. It matters that audiences were and are inclined to go along with this idiotic practice.

Certainly there are those for whom I would stand up and cheer. But were I a member of a TV talk show audience (that ain’t gonna happen), and were a guest of “low consequence" to be introduced, I would not scream nor yelp nor yo.

In some settings (I’m excluding funerals and invocations and such), audiences can be mob-like and thus dangerous. When you stand up to applaud with an audience, you’re joining in a group action—you are going from “I” and entering into “we”—and yet you can’t control the “we.” As a consequence, if your colleagues act like assholes or dopes, you are ipso facto an asshole or a dope.

So standing up with an audience is a kind of Russian roulette. Sometimes, not often, you have reason to feel good about the group act. Other times you feel like an asshole. The only control you have is whether to join with them in the first place.

Let’s face it: in the setting of a talk show (as opposed to, say, a comedy club), screaming and hooting for, say, Gary Coleman or even Robin Williams is plainly undignified and idiotic. It’s like announcing, “Here we are, the stupid and clueless!”

I guess I love politics, but I hate participating in political rallies or demonstrations. I recall joining in an anti-fur demonstration about twenty years ago. I believed in the cause (still do), but when I arrived for the demonstration, I could see that I really wasn’t like most of my colleagues, many of whom were politically simplistic or self-indulgent or immaturely motivated. (There were exceptions, too: activist/protesters who were both smart and committed. I admired them. Still do.)

I rejected the way most of my fellow-protesters saw the issue and viewed the protest, and yet I was a member of the group—I had deliberately joined it. The group was doing and saying something. That meant that I was doing and saying it too. Naturally, I felt uncomfortable. (Sometimes, such discomfort is the price you pay to take the opportunities you have to do what is right. You can’t be a purist about such things.)


I recall a moment from my teenage years. My German mother and I were watching TV. There was a large and enthusiastic audience attending a ceremony in honor of someone. They clapped and cheered as the honoree got his prize.

The honoree smiled a broad smile. He joined the clapping.

“Look. He’s clapping," announced my mother. "I don’t understand that. It’s stupid,” she said.

And it was. That little moment stayed with me.


When we join in group actions that are old and familiar, we pretty much know what we’re getting into. But when things change and group or mass behavior is new and not-yet-fully-understood, our joining it is definitely a kind of Russian roulette, a toss of the dice with something at stake.

This is where people mystify me. Why join into the new thing without reservation? Because it's new? If everybody jumped off a cliff, would you do that too? If people started smearing excrement on their heads, would you join along?

Aincha got no dignity, no sense, no brain?!

Years ago, I’d see kids walking along with boom boxes, disturbing the peace. They didn’t care how anybody felt about the booming, rhythmic sounds they were pumping into the atmosphere. Or maybe they did care: they hoped it pissed people off.


In recent years, I’ve occasionally been startled to find someone alone, talking to himself. They’ve got a cell phone—or, worse, one of those contraptions that you just wear on your head all the time. You see 'em, striding down the frozen food aisle at Ralphs, talking a blue streak, sometimes cursing or discussing matters that no sane person would broadcast. They're yacking, but nobody's around, except for me and maybe some old woman buying frozen pees.

And, for a moment, the lady and I are weirded out.

Then we see the guy's headset. Oh that.

As this fool passes, we sense that he's doing something he shouldn't do. He's doing it to us. He's saying, “You don't matter; only I matter.”

Lots of people seem to have grabbed one of those gizmos as soon as they became available, and they're out there, man, causing weirditude, left and right. That’s what I don’t understand. Why just start doing something that's new? Why dive into the deep end with it? Don’t you want to understand it first? Isn’t it obvious that it’s at least possible that it isn’t nice or that it does harm or that it degrades our lives?

Doncha care about such things?

I see people picking up firecrackers and throwing them into crowds, all day long.

That's what I see.

Watch Walt deal with a lout: the Breaking Bad "exploding BMW" episode.
You don't get to see it, but the loutish BMW driver doesn't just steal Walt's parking spot. He's one of those rude cell phone squawkers. That's the clincher.
So Walt destroys his Beemer. Not that I approve.

Williams: “I may not have followed what their intent was”

Yesterday, on the OC Register Total Buzz blog, reporter Jennifer Muir updated us on the John Williams mismanagement story (SOCCCD trustee Williams is also the OC Public Administrator/Guardian):

Memos may support allegations against public administrator
Grand Jury allegations that the county’s Public Administrator/Public Guardian has questionable promoting practices got a boost of credibility from inter-county memos obtained by the Register.

The offenses listed in the memos — all part of a draft county response to the grand jury report — are technical and obscure. But they lend credibility to grand jury allegations that PA/PG John Williams has tried to discredit.

While the internal county memos don’t confirm some of the most egregious offenses in the grand jury report, such as pension spiking and mismanaging an estate, it does appear to back up some of the personnel questions the grand jury raised. The memos say Williams ignored human resource guidelines when promoting managers.

“PA/PG’s human resources administration practices are outside standard county practice and go against direction previously provided by (the Human Resources Department),” a memo from the county’s budget office says.

The memos were written by county CEO Tom Mauk, Human Resources Director Carl Crown, and the county’s budget office and were sent to Supervisor Pat Bates. They also contain recommendations that supervisors consider splitting up the public administrator and public guardian office and delete three manager positions....

Williams said Thursday that the memos, dated June 4, contain old information. After they were circulated, he met with Mauk and Crown on June 24 and resolved their questions.

“Carl Crown confirmed we did not violate any policy or procedure,” he said. … “As it stands, I may not have followed what their intent was, and it may not have been what they wanted, but we did not violate policy,” he said.

He also responded formally to the memo.

A county spokesman confirmed that Williams met with Mauk and the other county officials. But he would not discuss what happened in that meeting. Instead, he said the county’s response to the first grand jury report will be presented publicly to supervisors July 28. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We'll "prosper through doors"—and experience the Fall of Peevitude

Big things are happening in the world of community colleges, I guess.

On Tuesday, Chancellor Raghu P. Mathur spammed the district community (SOCCCD) about President Obama’s “significant announcement” concerning community colleges. Attached were emails, including one from California cc hotshot Scott Lay. Lay laid out Obama’s initiative, which is “aimed at increasing the number of degree and certificate attainees in community colleges by 5 million over the next ten years.”

In an attached Washington Post article, White House officials identify the “heart of the program” as
grants, which will require colleges to compete by designing innovative new programs or revamping their existing curricula. The grants are similar to the "Race to the Top" funding that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has proposed for the K-12 school systems. ¶ "We're going to take a careful look at how well these things work, and only the ones that demonstrate results will receive continued funding," said James Kvaal, a special assistant to the president for economic policy.

The Lay Man couldn’t help but note the cacophony against which this chirpy tune is being played:
Nevertheless, the new federal funds won't be arriving at community colleges in time to save the 250,000 students expected to be pushed out or to stall the deep cuts to student service programs for our most vulnerable students.

Yeah, Mr. Buzzkill, things seriously suck.

On Tuesday, the OC Reg was on the case, reporting that
Orange County community colleges applauded President Obama's pledge today of a $12 billion infusion for job training and other programs even as they acknowledged the struggle they face in balancing budgets in a tight economy.

Some familiar names appeared in that piece. Former Saddleback College President—and current NOCCCD chancellor—Ned Doffoney was quoted as saying that “This landmark initiative will show Americans new ways to re-invent and prosper through the doors of our community colleges. We welcome the possibilities.”

Re-inventing (and prospering) through doors? I like Ned, but he really oughta consult the metaphor mechanics over in the English department before taking his slogans on the road.

The Reg notes that OC community colleges seem particularly dedicated to developing “job skills” programs. That’s where our own Chancellor, a staunch Republican, chimed in:
South Orange County Chancellor Raghu P. Mathur, a former chemistry professor, said career tech is central to the mission of community colleges, and the more funds available to those programs across the nation, the better. ¶ “Only then can we remain competitive,” said Mathur, who helps lead several county efforts on technical education.

Yeah. He’s a leader. And a former chemistry professor. And one of the biggest assholes on the planet.

The Reg describes draconian belt-tightening efforts in local districts. But efforts in the SOCCD aren’t as severe:
Mathur said South Orange County expects to weather the 2009-10 cuts with a combination of spending reductions and a cap on the number of class sections, even as it continues to build its reserves.

This summer, deans have been scrambling to make all of this work for the Fall. And the Spring. (The future: watch some instructors take heat for loading too many students into their already over-loaded classes. Watch students grumble and snipe about not getting into classes. In general, welcome the Fall of Peevitude.)


As you know, the SOCCCD is not in the same fix as most other cc districts, owing to its “basic aid” gravy train. We’re sitting on shitloads of moola, but, if you think about it, that’s doesn’t mean we should accommodate the thousands of students turned away from UCI, the CSUs, and local community colleges. Everybody hates us because of those basic aid bucks, and it’s just a matter of time before they find a way to screw our pooch. (Plus, potentially, basic aid bucks can undergo significant reduction.) We need to prepare for these possibilities.

Suddenly taking on lots of new students might put us in a real spot, fiscally, when things change down the line. We don’t seem to be doing that.

Some (indeed, many) would look upon SOCCCD Pooch Screwery with glee. Heck, watching us crash and burn and squeal might be enough to kick-start positivity (not to mention “re-invention”) throughout the state. Could be.

Let’s hope Mathur and the trustees know what they’re doing. I guess they do.

It’s a good thing reality isn’t an Ancient Greek play. Otherwise, we’d marry our mother, kill our father, quit our job, and get caught in Argentina with some babe. We’d spend eternity as one of those Geiko eyeballs, blinking at money we ain't got.


OC Weekly’s Matt Coker (FORCED VACATION VOTE FOR UC IRVINE FACULTY, STAFF IS TODAY) reports that “the University of California Board of Regents is poised today to force furloughs on more than 108,000 members of the UC faculty and staff, including those at UC Irvine”:
University employees would be required to take anywhere from 11 to 26 furlough days under the plan…. More furlough days and steeper pay cuts would be mandated on higher earners, reports the UC. The full board's vote on the plan is expected at 11 a.m. today….

See also UC regent panel backs budget-cutting plan (SacBee)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

There must be limits to moral generosity


Gary Robbins at the Reg’s College Life blog informs us that CSU student fees are liable to go up again:
Barely two months after it increased students fees by 10 percent, the California State University system is considering raising fees by about 20 percent to help California balance a budget deficit projected at $26 billion.

May’s 10 percent increase raised fees for full-time undergraduates by about $306. The roughly 20 percent increase would add another $672 to student bills, says Claudia Keith, a spokeswoman for the CSU, which has about 450,000 students. The university system says a full-time undergrad would pay about $4,962 — or more than $1,200 than a year ago — if the second fee increase is imposed.

The CSU must save $584 million for the 2009-10 academic year. The new fees will cover part of it. But the system is in the process of arranging to have all of its employees take two unpaid furlough days per month to save millions more….


Local pastor Wiley Drake named 'World's Worst Person' (OC Register)
...Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley Drake is certainly one of Buena Park's most famous denizens.

Cable channel MSNBC host Keith Olbermann gave Drake more exposure this week when he named Drake the "World's Worst Person." In video aired on the station on Monday, Olbermann's cited Drake's admission that he prays for the death of President Barack Obama as his basis for the selection.

Drake, who had not heard about the broadcast before phone calls from reporters, laughed when he heard about the "honor." ¶ "At least I'm No. 1. He could've hurt my feelings and made me No. 3.," Drake said.

According to the Reg, Drake says that it is his duty to make these dark prayers, cuz Psalm 109 “asks for punishment for evildoers.”

WHAT THE PSALM SAYS. Here’s the King James Bible version of Psalm 109 [edited for length]:
Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful … they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.

Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.

Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the Lord, and of them that speak evil against my soul.

For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.

Help me, O Lord my God: O save me according to thy mercy:
That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, Lord, hast done it.

Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.
I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude.
For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.


Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks that humans have an innate sense of justice or morality that is true and correct. Such people (some of them anyway) will no doubt condemn the writer of this Psalm for his violations of the True Innate Morality.

I have no interest in condemning our psalmist. No doubt, in offering this psalm, he does not violate his world's morality, which, of course, is not mine. Nor is it yours. Nor is it Drake’s, I hope.

For that morality is repellant to us. The psalmist asks the Lord to torment, not just his enemy, but the wife and children of his enemy. For instance, he asks the Lord to arrange for these children to become beggars. He asks that the Lord show no mercy toward them.

Admirable, eh?

Our psalmist seems to be asking that God grant what nowadays is called a revenge fantasy. This particular fantasy goes beyond the torment of the psalmist’s enemy, for he asks that the torment of his enemy by understood by all as the Lord’s work.

Excellent fellow!

I especially like the last part. The psalmist seems to be saying: “Lord, do this thing for me and I’ll praise you bigtime.”

If we were to view our lives and values carefully and systematically, I do think that we would identify a (more or less) shared morality. Owing to historical accident, it is, of course, a kind of Judeo-Christian morality that reflects our time and place. It is a shared set of values and ideals that yields such phenomena as my admiring the honesty and integrity of my former father-in-law, Floyd. He is a Montana cattle rancher who is also a Christian and a staunch Republican.

Despite our obvious differences, I can do no other than to regard this fellow as a good and admirable man.

According to our shared morality (yes, dear reader, I'm referring to you and me and the morality we share), it is unseemly to seek an enemy's revenge, and it is especially discreditable to desire or seek the misfortune of his or her loved ones and descendents (and ancestors!).

Further, according to that morality, it is wrong to attempt to bribe a moral superior (e.g., one’s beloved wise grandmother or, say, the Lord).

And surely, among such moralists, it would be strange to suppose that our moral superior would be motivated to assist someone by the prospect of public praise!

Hey, I've been around. So I say this: I would not be surprised if, owing to some odd circumstance, I might encounter Mr. Drake (a few occasional conversations at the Buena Park IHOP) and this would yield a complex admiration of him, too. For it is at least conceivable to me that in much of his life, he is like my former father-in-law: good, honest, just, etc.

But then there’s his church and all that noise about praying for the President’s death.

There must be limits to moral generosity.

Sorry Wiley. You're not in Floyd's league.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This Is What It Sounds Like When Moose Cry

As you know, occasional contributor Mr. Eugene Debs is mysterious; his whereabouts are unknown and his intentions are variously incomprehensible, dismal, or opaque. As usual, his new piece appeared on my computer without explanation or signs of entry. Attached to it was a note that virtually begged that we not accept it. —RB
I confess to feeling a mite gypped* that Our Subarctic Lady of Perpetual Betcha has bailed on us. I was really looking forward to the Palin Administration, and not just as a last-chance vindication of the unacknowledged potential of Dan Quayle.

WWIII and — in the second term — marauding caribou-riding neo-barbarians and ubiquitous cannibalism promised to be excitingly atmospheric.

But it looks like we'll have to do without that. And as if that weren't enough, PalinFAIL has had the unfortunate side effect of causing a thought to occur to me, namely, that the long-term intellectual dry rot of the American right is getting a bit out of hand, like a house in which the termites have finally eaten through the load-bearing posts and beams, causing visible slouch.

By way of illustration, No More Mr. Nice Blog has a cogent meditation on the puzzling continued respectability of Pat Buchanan. During the first US election I experienced firsthand —1992 — P-to-the-B-Dog was the rightmost bound of good taste — beyond him there be naught but manticores and Grand Wizards. But Buchanan was at least not a fool; he could express complex ideas, if generally loathsome ones.

The Buchanan/Palin comparison is like Augustine vs. Aimee Semple MacPherson, and besides Palin makes Buchanan look moderate.

Or to put it differently: some time ago I read — well, glossed — "The Naked Communist" (a very misleading title, BTW; I'm stll steamed over the absolute lack of a Valentina Tereskhova centerfold, or at least Ninotchka showing some leg). Fifty years ago, it may have been the angry face of raw Bircher populism, but if you subtract the obvious insanity, it seems by contemporary standards almost charming; wheedling, plaintive, didactic — even the obviously insane parts are oddly decorous, such as the chapter in which Presidents Truman and Eisenhower are politely accused of being Soviet agents. I defy anyone to find a given hour of modern talk radio in which the Democrats are not accused of trying to legalize child molestation; the word "treason" is tossed around so casually as to have lost all meaning, like accusing someone of not separating their recyclables or being a Nazi. As for the gravitas of ideas, that will have to wait for Joe the Plumber's Untitled "Aaaargh, My 15 Minutes Are Almost Up!" Project,** featuring a rare preface by the self-effacing, publicity-shy Newt Gingrich.

Anyway. All of this describes a trajectory; and while the moral arc of the universe may bend toward justice, this thing appears to bend in a direction not known to mainstream topology, into a willful, Borges-like denial of reality (with a quick stopover at Cletus the slack-jawed yokel's shack). Frankly, I have no idea if there is a natural bottom to this phenomenon, though I suppose a candidate need at least be ambulatory and continent. In another generation or two, Palin and Huckabee may be the voices of sanity and moderation, whereas God only knows what rough — but lotioned-up-for-HDTV — beast may be slouching toward New Hampshire, waiting to be served pancakes.

*My dictionary does not suggest that this term has anything to do with Gypsies: "ORIGIN late 19th cent.: of unknown origin." So there. [RB]

**Maybe this is unfair; the modern Left has a gaping lack of vision, too. Gore Vidal is a poor substitute for Bertrand Russell (OK, yes, not an American. Whatever).

8-14: do you regret all the lying?

✅ Trump Encourages Racist Conspiracy Theory on Kamala Harris’s Eligibility to Be Vice President NYT ✅ Orange County Sees Overall Coronavirus...

Goals and Values and Twaddle

blather: long-winded talk with no real substance*
The whole concept of MSLOs [measurable student learning outcomes] as the latest fad in education is somewhat akin to the now discredited fad of the '90's, Total Quality Management, or TQM. Essentially, the ACCJC adopted MSLOs as the overarching basis for accrediting community colleges based on their faith in the theoretical treatises of a movement.... After repeated requests for research showing that such use of MSLOs is effective, none has been forthcoming from the ACCJC [accreditors]. Prior to large scale imposition of such a requirement at all institutions, research should be provided to establish that continuous monitoring of MSLOs has resulted in measurable improvements in student success at a given institution. No such research is forthcoming because there is none….
The Accountability Game…., Leon F. Marzillier (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, October, 2002)
In the summer of ’13, I offered a critique of the awkward verbiage by which the district and colleges explain their values, goals, and objectives —aka SOCCCD'S G&V (goals and values) blather.
I wrote a post each for the district, Saddleback College, and Irvine Valley College efforts. (See the links below.)
This verbiage—stated in terms of “values,” “missions,” “goals,” “visions,” and whatnot—is often badly written. It is sometimes embarrassingly trite.
It occasionally communicates something worthwhile.
No doubt you are familiar with the usual objections to jargon. Higher education, too, has its jargon—an irony, given typical college-level instruction in writing, which urges jargon eschewery.
Sure enough, SOCCCD G&V blather is riddled with jargon and with terms misused and abused. For instance, in the case of the district’s dubious blather, the so-called “vision” is actually a purpose. Why didn't they just call it that?
As one slogs through this prattle, one finds that "visions" tend to be awfully similar to “missions,” with which they are distinguished. The latter in turn are awfully similar to “goals,” which must be distinguished from “objectives.” But aren't goals and objectives pretty much the same thing?
These perverse word games will surely perplex or annoy anyone armed with a command of the English language. In fact, readers will be perplexed to the degree that they are thus armed. Illiterates, of course, will be untroubled.
Here's a simple point: the district and colleges’ G&V blather tends to eschew good, plain English in favor of technical terms and trendy words and phrases (i.e., it tends to be bullshitty and vague). Thus, one encounters such trendy terminological turds as “dynamic,” “diversity,” “student success,” and “student-centered.” Even meretricious neologisms such as ISLOs and “persistence rates” pop up, unexplained, undefended.
Does anyone see a transparency problem with all of this? Shouldn't the public, or at least the well educated public, be able to comprehend statements of the colleges' goals and values?
In the case of the district, to its credit, all it really seems to want to say is that it wants to teach well and it wants students to succeed. Admirable!
So why all the ugly, common-sense defying, buzzword-encrusted claptrap?

Districtular poppycock: our “vision” and our “mission” and our tolerance of twaddle - July 31, 2013

THEY BUZZ: Saddleback College's "Mission, Vision, and Values" - August 4, 2013

IVC’s vision, mission, and goals: nonsense on stilts - August 5, 2013

THE IRVINE VALLEY CHRONICLES: no ideas, just clichés & buzzwords - Sep 30, 2013

*From my Apple laptop's dictionary