Friday, November 30, 2012

The Humanities as Sugar Daddy

cross-posted from Dagblog

So, the Governor of Florida set up a Task Force on higher education, and they decided that humanities majors should pay more than science majors for a college education. The thinking is that Florida wants more technology grads, and fewer humanities grads, and can get them by making humanities degrees more expensive so that students opt for science, math, and technology instead. They call this approach "market based," but its ignorance of basic economic realities is startling.

One of the hard truths of higher education is that some classes run at a profit and some run at a loss, and that the less-expensive, more-profitable classes are used to underwrite courses that are just as educationally necessary but cost more to run. The larger classes help pay for the smaller ones, the introductory classes help pay for the advanced ones, and the classes in "soft" subjects like English, history, or anthropology help pay for classes in "hard" disciplines like science and engineering.

This seems counter-intuitive to some non-academics who, having internalized the idea that science is where the money is, presume that offering science classes is also more profitable than offering classes on Latin poetry or sociological methods. But it is partly because STEM graduates make more money on average than humanities graduates that teaching STEM courses is more expensive: engineering professors make higher salaries than classics professors. Laboratory science (including computer science, certainly) also requires expensive labs and equipment, while most humanities courses require only a textbook (whose price is borne by the student, not the college). It's true that STEM fields bring in more external grant money, but that grant money largely gets eaten up by the lab facilities you have to build in order to apply for the grants.

The question "how can the humanities pay for themselves?" ignores the fact that the humanities not only pay for themselves but underwrite the sciences too. But ignoring that fact does not make it go away. And if Florida did manage to move a large number of its students out of profit-turning humanities classes into break-even-or-less science classes, it's likely that many public university budgets in Florida will go up in flames pose significant challenges.

Of course, that presumes that they can move students into their math and science classes at all. The "market-based" part of the solution ignores the fact that the Florida schools are actually part of a market. They compete for students with a large number of other schools. Being in a market means that you don't get to set prices unilaterally.

The English majors will simply go somewhere else. This is how markets work. Making a humanities degree pricier won't discourage people from pursuing that degree. It will only encourage them to buy it from your competitors instead of you. If it's too expensive to major in history at the University of Florida, students who want to major in history will either go to a private university or leave the state.

What Florida just decided to do is the equivalent to saying, "I'm tired of customers buying hamburgers instead of lobster. I'm going to make hamburgers twice as expensive as lobster." If you did that, you wouldn't sell more lobster. You'd just lose customers. They would go across the street to a restaurant where lobster was the same price, and burgers much cheaper. On the other hand, the few customers you did have would order nothing but the lobster, which you have to buy at expensive wholesale prices, instead of the ground beef that wholesales for so much less. And your restaurant will go broke pretty quickly, especially if you were already using the profits on all those hamburgers to subsidize the lobster side of the business.

But the Florida idea is ultimately just a newer version of something that's been happening in American universities for decades, as administrators demand a higher and higher profit margin from humanities classes in order to fund other priorities. For at least twenty-five years colleges have been increasing those profits by cutting humanities budgets, trying to spend less and less on those classes while keeping the revenue those courses bring in steady and growing. They shrink the number of full-time faculty in those fields, shift more and more teaching to ill-paid part-timers, and when push comes to shove cut the few subjects in the humanities, such as foreign-language instruction, that require higher overhead. Cutting costs AND upping prices is just an intensification of the normal strategy, busting the piggy bank open at two different ends.

Universities don't cut humanities budgets because the humanities are unprofitable. They cut humanities budgets because humanities are profitable, and schools are trying to squeeze more and more profit out of them. It's one of the few places to make money.  And schools are always hungry for more.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Death of the Dog Whistle

cross-posted from Dagblog

There's been a lot of post-election hand-wringing about how the Republicans can "reach out" to minority voters. If they can't win just by energizing their shrinking base of white people, what's next? Immigration reform? Marco Rubio? What's it going to take?

At the same time, you have former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan blaming the Romney loss on voters from "urban areas." Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Maybe I'm overthinking this, but if one chunk of your party is talking about reaching out to minority voters, and another chunk is publicly talking about minority voters in code, you are on the fast track to nowhere. And if your national candidates are using racial euphemisms in public, don't act surprised when people who aren't white don't want to vote for you.

Filing petitions talking about secession from the Union doesn't help, either. Um, Party of Lincoln? Hello?

The Republicans have made their political living for a generation on the racial dog-whistle, the coded appeal that comes across loud and clear to white racists but not to whites who don't like to think of themselves as racist. Lee Atwater famously explains the procedure:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Couldn't be clearer. But here's the problem for the Atwaters of the world now that more than a quarter of the electorate isn't white:

Racists aren't the only people who can hear the dog whistle. Minorities hear it clear as a bell.

When people say that people who aren't racists don't hear the dog whistle, they mean other white people can't hear it. And that conflation of "other white people" as "people" is part of the problem.

This is where a term like "white privilege" becomes useful. A white person who isn't actively hostile to other races, but has the luxury of not noticing racist hostility is enjoying white privilege in a pretty clear way. Does that make them racist? No. But giving yourself permission to remain clueless does pretty clearly help maintain the problem. And when white people bend over backwards to avoid offending anybody by calling an unrepentant dog-whistler a racist, that's white privilege in a pretty toxic form.

The Atwaterite Republican strategy is to say things that get the racist elements in their base worked up but that other whites will give them a pass on. (And, if anyone tries to call them on their BS, they take elaborate umbrage on cable news, and accuse their critics of "playing the race card." Obviously, white people who don't notice the dog whistle think "playing the race card" is a terrible, terrible thing.)

But getting away with your B.S. on cable TV isn't enough when we're talking about an electorate that's 25%-30% non-white. They won't give people a pass. They know a dog whistle when they hear it. They can't afford not to.

Time to go back to the drawing board, fellas. How about "Party of Lincoln?" It's worked before.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Excusing Petraeus

cross-posted from Dagblog

David Petraeus's downfall at the CIA, resigning after his marital infidelity was exposed, has gotten the kind of press coverage generally reserved for winning the Nobel Prize or becoming the first man on Mars. Story after story about his resignation rhapsodizes about the greatness of Petraeus, his military brilliance, his reputation for "probity and integrity." He is hailed as the model of a modern general, without a whiff of Gilbert & Sullivan irony in that phrase. Some people even single out the resignation itself as a sign of Petraeus's lofty sense of honor, as if why he was resigning had nothing to do with it. Of course, some of this is the standard journalistic fall-from-glory narrative, which needs to establish how high the subject was riding to demonstrate how far he's fallen. But it's peculiarly intense. Petraeus has always gotten idolatrous treatment from the media, and his resignation has become another opportunity to write the man valentines and give him lingering tongue-baths on the front page. What on earth did he need a mistress for?

Meanwhile, his extra-curricular lover gets blamed for seducing him. She "got his hooks" into him. He had a lapse in judgement, or simply "stumbled" in an unaccustomed situation. Virtually everyone agrees that Petraeus was weak and unable to resist, although everyone also agrees that they have no idea how this affair started. That no one knows any facts about whose idea the affair was or who started it is irrelevant, because this isn't about facts. An illicit relationship between a powerful man and less powerful woman is always treated as something that happens to the man and that the woman does.

Paula Broadwell has been hit with the two basic attacks used against every woman in her situation. 1) She is a crazed hussy. 2) It was her idea, and there was no way he could resist her. Never mind that these two lines of attack, which are almost always used in combination, tend to cancel each other out. (Shouldn't crazed hussies be easier to resist? Shouldn't any mature adult find lunatics much easier to turn down?) And while Broadwell has done legitimately reckless and foolish things, like sending the enraged e-mails that started the original investigation, the "crazed hussy" excuse only makes Petraeus's behavior worse. It demonstrates his lack of judgment. That he risked his career on a secret affair with an unreliable and ultimately untrustworthy partner is a sign of his own unreliable decision-making. So please, don't tell me any more about how smart he is. And the "couldn't resist her" excuse is a transparent falsehood. The affair could never have happened if David Petraeus did not want it to. The more powerful person can always resist the less powerful one, simply by using his power. It was not possible for Paula Broadwell to make any advances that David Petraeus did not allow her to make. There was nothing Broadwell could do unless Petraeus decided that she could do it.

If David Petraeus felt that Broadwell was getting too close to him, or that he was having trouble managing his sexual attraction to her, he could simply have closed off her access to him. It's that simple. When women get blamed for seducing powerful men, remember that the powerful man has to deliberately let that woman into a room with him in the first place. Monica Lewinsky and Rielle Hunter could not have gotten near Bill Clinton or John Edwards except that Clinton and Edwards deliberately decided to give those women access that almost everyone else was denied. This even holds true for men who aren't actually powerful, or who only have a little power inside their workplace. Being a college professor does not confer any power or influence. But over the years I've had two students make inappropriate romantic overtures toward me. Neither of those students has ever seen me one-on-one again. One has not been in the same room with me. And it was very easy for me to manage that. It is vastly easier for someone like Petraeus or Edwards or Clinton, surrounded by a constant press of followers and admirers jockeying for place near the great man, to let some obscure young woman (who, truthfully, doesn't have much reason to be there) get crowded out of his entourage. Petraeus didn't need an excuse to get rid of Broadwell or anybody else. Paula Broadwell was only around because Petraeus wanted her around. Anybody he stopped wanting around, anyone Petraeus did not actively invite into his presence, would simply be gone.

Why did he do it, reporters keep asking? Why did he have the hubris to think he could get away with it? But hubris is the point of such a relationship. It's obvious that Broadwell downright worships Petraeus, and her uncritical adoration has to be a strong part of her appeal. Petraeus got to have an affair with a person who saw none of his flaws and more of his virtues then he had, and he got to see himself through her eyes. It is the intoxicating pleasure of having a lover who has mistaken you for someone else, and indulges you in the same mistake. (My inappropriate students were clearly not attracted to the actual me, whom they do not really know, but to some English-professor fantasy that they had constructed around me. My spouse, on the other hand, not only sees my feet of clay but has to remind me twice a week about the clayey footprints I've left on the rug. That is just one of the many reasons I prefer her.) The great appeal of the younger mistress is not sex but vanity; they allow their older, more powerful lover to believe in an idealized fantasy version of himself. It isn't so much that hubris leads powerful men to chase younger women for sex. It's that such men have sex with younger women in order to get more and more hubris.

But Petraeus got more than the gratification of his vanity. He got payment for his favors: a doting, hero-worshiping quid pro quo of a biography. David Petraeus values publicity, and has long used it to advance his career. Sometimes he has even used publicity in an attempt to sway national policy in ways that he thought would benefit his career. And that is where the real moral rot lies here. I am not convinced that Petraeus's illicit sex life was necessarily a scandal in itself, or any threat to national security. I think the FBI investigation may be a legitimate scandal, not because the Intelligence Committees were not briefed but because other Congressmen were, and because no clear reason has been given for investigating anything. (If Broadwell is not being charged for sending the e-mail which began the investigation, why did the investigation begin at all?) But there is a real scandal here, and that scandal is the media itself.

Broadwell is spectacularly unethical as a journalist. There is no honesty in publishing a book about your lover without admitting he sleeps with you. No book published under those circumstances could be truthful. But Broadwell is the only the most glaringly literal example of the way the press has allowed Petraeus to play them. Broadwell's access to Petraeus's bed is not the problem with access journalism. The scandal is that so many other journalists have been willing to pay so much to Petraeus, and to others like him, in exchange for access to him. Granting journalists the privilege of covering him has bought Petraeus the right to control how he is covered. The result is propaganda that lionizes a man at the expense of the telling the truth about vital national concerns. Journalists give Petraeus credit for winning two wars that the United States has not won. That is exceptional and unhealthy. The fawning tone in news stories about Petraeus's resignation is not coverage of the scandal. It is a continuation of the scandal.

Let me spell it out: David Petraeus is a whore. He performed sexual favors in exchange for flattering media coverage. And Paula Broadwell was his john. She repaid Petraeus's sexual attentions and his protestations of love with glowing publicity. (Imagine Petraeus as an actress and Broadwell as a theater critic and the nature of their transaction becomes clear.) That Broadwell fell in love with her prostitute and lost herself in the follies of jealousy only makes her a sadder figure. The rest of the media, with whom David never actually went all the way but whom he has spent years intriguing and rebuffing and encouraging as it suited his purpose, are still willing to cover him any way he likes, just for the chance to get closer to him. David Petraeus may have fallen from grace for a moment, but the press still lusts after him and still woos him. They're just waiting for him to give them a chance.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Vote, Ohio!

If you're voting in Ohio, here's what you need to know:

1. Where should I go to vote?

If you're unsure where your polling place is, go here or here to look it up.

2. What ID should I bring?
The forms of identification that may be used by a voter who appears at a polling place to vote on an Election Day include:
  • A current and valid photo identification card issued by the State of Ohio or the United States government; or
  • A military identification ("military ID"); or
  • An original or copy of a current utility bill; or
  • An original or copy of a current bank statement; or
  • An original or copy of a current government check; or
  • An original or copy of a current paycheck; or
  • An original or copy of a current other government document, other than a voter registration acknowledgement notification mailed by the board of elections, that shows the voter’s name and current address.
For Voter I.D. purposes "current" means the document was issued on a date within one year immediately preceding the date of the election at which the voter seeks to vote, or has on it an expiration date after November 6, 2012.

If your ID has expired AND it is more than a year old, then you need a different ID.

3) What if I don't have that kind of ID?

Voters who do not provide one of these documents at the precinct will still be able to vote using a provisional ballot. Voters who do not have any of the above forms of identification, including a Social Security number, will still be able to vote by signing an affirmation statement swearing to the voter’s identity under penalty of election falsification and by casting a provisional ballot.

4) What if my license has my old address on it? 

A voter presenting an Ohio driver’s license that shows the voter’s former address is permitted to cast a regular ballot so long as the voter’s current residential address is printed in the official poll list of registered voters for that precinct. 

5) What happens if I get a provisional ballot?

Try not to get a provisional ballot if you can help it. If you do get one, you may be asked to fill in the ID information on the ballot that you used. There is a court fight about this, but to be on the safe side make sure to do it yourself.

You have to fill in, carefully, the section on the ballot about the kind of ID you used. Make sure to fill this in carefully. Ask the poll workers for help if you're confused. (They're definitely allowed to help you, even if they're not allowed to fill it in.) Ask the poll workers if you've done it right before you hand in the ballot.

6) What if the line is too long, or the polls close before I get to vote vote?

You must be allowed to vote if you got in line before the polls close at 7:30 Tuesday night. If you get in line before the polls close but don't get to vote before 7:30 STAY IN LINE until they let you vote.

Voting is your right as an American, and it wasn't the people manning the tables at your polling place who gave it to you. They can't take it away from you either. Don't leave until you vote.

7) What if I have trouble voting?

Call the Ohio Voter Hotline: 1-855-VOTE-199