Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Society and Income Inequality

February 5, 2017

Interpret this.

incomeandsociety

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Jazz History, Race History

June 30, 2016

A lot of old jazz videos have entered the public domain, and can be seen on YouTube. This one is a fascinating study in so many ways:

 

Louis Armstrong nearly single-handedly invented the improvised solo, and thus what we now think of as jazz, with implications for rock as well (so-called “guitar gods” like Hendrix, Clapton, etc….). So, this is American history and music history in the making.

It also reminds me of a Miles Davis comment on Armstrong, acknowledging Armstrong’s legacy, yet adding something to the effect of “But I couldn’t stand all the smiling he did.” There’s some clowning in this video, presumably to please a white audience, seemingly a perfect fit for another Miles Davis observation on race:

White people have certain things they expect from Negro musicians — just like they’ve got labels for the whole Negro race. It goes clear back to the slavery days. That was when Uncle Tomming got started because white people demanded it. Every little black child grew up seeing that getting along with white people meant grinning and acting clowns. It helped white people to feel easy about what they had done, and were doing, to Negroes, and that’s carried right on over to now. You bring it down to musicians, they want you to not only play your instrument, but to entertain them, too, with grinning and dancing. –Miles Davis, 1962

Needless to say, a Miles Davis video roughly 30 years later, shows a very different demeanor:

In high school I was best in music class on the trumpet, but the prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn….

I don’t dig people in clubs who don’t pay the musicians respect. You ever see anybody bugging the classical musicians when they are on the job and trying to work?

Of course, there is nature as well as nurture. Armstrong was, by all accounts, a playful extrovert by nature, and that very playfulness probably led him down the path of increasingly improvised music. Davis was, by all accounts, a surly introvert, smiling so rarely he named one of his albums “Miles Smiles” in reference to his reputation (it’s one of my favorite Miles Davis albums, I might add).

 

 

Parental Homophobia

June 18, 2016

I’ve never seen a pride-based logo or meme for being the parent of a gay child. There are plenty of expressions of parental pride, such as “My child is an honor student at…”, and I once saw a bumpersticker proclaiming “My child can kick you honor student’s butt!” (I’m ashamed to say I giggled). And, there are many expressions of gay pride and straight support for the gay community. But, I’ve never seen an expression of specifically parental support.

Why does it matter? It’s widely reported that parental homophobia is very destructive, since it teaches the kids to hate themselves. It’s also a well-known cause of teen homelessness. Articles like these are increasingly common, and back in the late 90’s when I volunteered at an agency for homeless youth, we were told as part of our regular training that gay and lesbian kids being kicked out by their parents was a common cause of homelessness.

On that note, a few sketches of something that could go on a t-shirt, or become a meme in some way….

ppgc The triangle-heart combination seems a bit awkward, as a matter of graphic design. A friend suggested the pink triangle had a negative historical connotation, since it originated with the Nazis, although I think the gay community has completely reappropriated it.

Another style…..

rainbowheart ppgc

Some do-it-yourself design sites are set up to make this easy on a retail basis.

Maybe I’m out to lunch, having no personal experience with the issue. It’s just a thought that popped into my head after working with marginalized teens, reading articles such as the one from Rolling Stone, and then a story on NPR yesterday that the Orlando shooter may have had repressed same-sex interest. Basically, parents who support their LGBT children are good role-models for “at-risk” parents, so why not give them a vehicle to play that role?

Benchmark-free Education

January 2, 2016

We judge an education by comparing it to a standard or other educations. Sally, an eighth-grader, met the eighth-grade benchmark at the end of the year. Success for Sally! And her school! More students at her school than the one down the road met the benchmark. There is something wrong down the road. Losers!

But, what if Sally entered the eighth grade already able to meet the benchmark? What was her school’s duty to her in that case, and did it meet that duty? How could anyone tell?

If we evaluate the school by how many eighth graders met eighth-grade standards, then we don’t care whether it taught Sally anything. She began the year already able to meet the standards. So, what was her school’s duty to her?

If you believe in “school equity,” you believe the school should devote fewer resources to students like Sally. Many resources (the teacher’s one-on-one time, for instance) are finite. Investing them in a student who can already meet the benchmark, means withholding  them from a student below benchmark. That will lower the number of benchmark-meeting students, reduce equity, and possibly mark the school as “failing.”.

We create “equal” distributions by compressing ranges–of wealth, education, etc. Devaluing the further progress of high achievers may (or not) be valid in the case of wealth, but it is wrong to do that to someone’s education.

So, affluent parents of a high-achieving student often send that kid to private school. It’s their duty to their child not to care about equity.

What if schools didn’t have a duty to maximize the number of students that meet a standard based on averaging? Suppose a teacher’s sole purpose were to guide the student to fulfill her own potential, whatever that may be. What would that classroom look like? How would it define “equity”? How would we measure the teacher’s effectiveness?

Waiting for Superman, Teachers’ Unions, Political Donations

August 13, 2012

Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. (SPJ)

Waiting for Superman

Taken together, the two biggest teacher’s unions, the NEA and AFT, are the largest campaign contributors in the country. Over the last 20 years, they’ve given over $55 million to federal candidates and their parties, more than the Teamsters, the NRA or any other individual organization.

Waiting for Superman

Ahem.

“Taken together,” the NEA (National Education Association) and AFT (American Federation of Teachers) are not an individual organization. The comparison is misleading. From 1989-2012, the NEA ranked 5th among political contributions by special interests, behind AFSCME (a conglomeration of local unions), AT&T Corp. and the National Association of Realtors.

The NEA and the AFT are the only organizations representing the interests of teachers. The proper comparison is between organizations serving teachers “taken together” and organizations serving other interests “taken together.” For example, how do the political donations of teachers’ unions compare to those of the banking industry?

Political Donors, 1989 to mid-2012

Education & Banking  
National Education Assn $42 million
Goldman Sachs $39 million
American Federation of Teachers $34 million
Citigroup Inc $30 million
American Bankers Assn $26 million
JPMorgan Chase & Co $25 million
Morgan Stanley $23 million
Bank of America $21 million
UBS AG $18 million
Credit Suisse Group $15 million
Merrill Lynch $14 million
Teachers’ Unions $76 million
Banks & Investment Banks $211 million

“Taken together,” the banking industry is the largest campaign contributor in the country. Its political donations are almost triple those of the teachers’ unions.

The organizations that should be “taken together” are those that share self-interests. The self-interest of the rest of the financial sector overlaps that of the banks (they all want financial deregulation, for example):

Other Interest Groups in Financial Sector  
National Assn of Realtors $44 million
Credit Union National Assn $21 million
Deloitte LLP $20 million
Ernst & Young $20 million
PricewaterhouseCoopers $19 million
AFLAC Inc $17 million
Natl Assn/Insurance & Financial Advisors $17 million
American Institute of CPAs $14 million
American Financial Group $13 million
KPMG LLP $13 million
New York Life Insurance $12 million
Prudential Financial $11 million
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance $11 million
MetLife Inc $11 million
Indep Insurance Agents & Brokers/America $11 million
Other Financial $254 million
   
TOTAL  
Education Sector $76 million
Financial Sector $465 million

“Taken together,” the financial sector gave six times more money to political candidates and parties than the “education sector”.

Some other special interest groups, taken together:

Telecommunication Industry  
AT&T Inc $49 million
Time Warner $22 million
Verizon Communications $22 million
Comcast Corp $15 million
BellSouth Corp $13 million
TOTAL $121 million
*Communications Workers of America $32 million
Military Industry  
Lockheed Martin $22 million
General Electric $22 million
Boeing Co $18 million
Northrop Grumman $15 million
General Dynamics $14 million
Honeywell International $14 million
Raytheon Co $13 million
TOTAL $118 million
*Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union $28 million

* Relevant unions, which I didn’t count in the industry totals, although they have overlapping interests.

Waiting for Superman’s statement that “…the NEA and AFT are the largest campaign contributors in the country” is absurd. It violates the journalist’s pledge to serve the public with honesty.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

July 1, 2012

I was disappointed. It was merely clever. The theme was unoriginal.

Life is something you do, something done to you. It’s an old saw. It’s the main theme of Greek myths. Vonnegut didn’t add much.

He re-surfaced it in an amusing way. The aliens, Tralfamadorians, are the Fates. Maybe politicians are the gods.

Both Homer and Vonnegut take war as the stage for their look at fate. Is there a difference? We don’t accept the inevitability of war (do we?). Vonnegut was sarcastic, Homer sincere.

But sarcasm is never deep.

Obamacare & Individual Mandate

March 29, 2012

I’m libertarian about society, communist about the environment, and intellectually intrigued by the large middle ground. Government-mandated health insurance is not in the middle ground; it has nothing to do with the environment. So, as a matter of principle, I oppose it. Of course, by that same principle, I oppose public education. I wonder why all the protestors denouncing the Affordable Care Act as socialism aren’t also screaming at first-graders attending public school.

To continue this theme of consistency in our society: There is nothing unprecedented about the government forcing people to buy something. Every act of income taxation is an example. Unless people are free to choose not to have income, it is nonsense to argue that taxing income and then buying stuff with it is not forcing people to buy stuff.

So, the Supreme Court’s comparison of the individual mandate to forcing people to buy broccoli is dumb. The government does, in fact, force people to buy broccoli: It forces them to pay taxes on the process of earning a living, and then it spends some of that tax revenue on school and military lunches, some of which undoubtedly include broccoli.

The comparison is also dumb because the government forces hospitals to provide emergency room services, regardless of an ability to pay. It doesn’t force grocery stores to hand out free food, regardless of an ability to pay.

There are certainly ways that the individual mandate fails to make sense. Most of its advocates are prone to saying that healthcare is a fundamental human right. Well, a fundamental right is, by definition, something it’s wrong to make you pay for. You don’t have to pay the government for a speedy trial, or to exercise free speech, or to avoid cruel and unusual punishment. So, if healthcare is a right, why are liberals trying to make us pay for it?

Another problem with corporate bailouts

December 28, 2010

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. ….”There’s a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy,”

http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2010-12-28-jobs-overseas_N.htm

How to grade schools

September 22, 2010

The popular methods seem to involve test scores and graduation rate. Test scores are a valid part, but only a part: education is not test prep. Graduation rate shouldn’t be a factor at all, since it isn’t independent of school policies.

A natural approach would be to identify the measurable effects of education. Then, identify the non-school factors influencing those outcomes. Then, predict outcomes based on those factors. Achievement beyond the prediction is probably due to the schools. For example….

Measurable outcomes of schooling probably include SAT scores, college attendance, college success, employment, and crime rate. These are aspects of a post-schooling life influenced by education.

Non-school influences on those outcomes probably include the average (and median) income and educational level of neighborhood families.

So, a given level of income and education in a school’s families should predict a certain level of outcomes (SAT scores, crime rate, etc.) in the school’s students after they finish school. If the school does better than what is predicted, it is a successful school.

Generally, statsitics are relevant to groups. This method wouldn’t work at all in assessing individual teachers. It might be better at assessing districts than schools. All such methods are aproximate. Something is always lost in a statistical snapshot.

Economists Agree

February 16, 2009

It’s interesting to note how professional academics fail to align with popular opinion. Professionals shouldn’t be assumed to be always right–that’s a species of authority worship–but they do deserve to be taken seriously. They are the experts in their fields. As various conservatives constantly reminds us, academics tend to be liberal. The neo-cons think that’s evidence of a liberal bias in higher education. Maybe it’s evidence that liberal positions are better supported by fact and reason.

Economics is a little different. Here’s a list, from Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, of matters about which economists tend to agree. It is generally not supportive of leftist positions. Most economists agree minimum wage increases unemployment and rent ceilings reduce the quality of housing. The experts generally support free-markets and free-trade.

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2009/02/news-flash-economists-agree.html

There are a few things I question. Items #10 and #13 suggest we should replace food stamps and other non-cash assistance with cash. How would we prevent the cash from being spent on, say, booze and lottery tickets? Or fertility treatment by a woman who already has six kids and no job? Some of the items are vaguely moralistic, employing the word “should” rather specifying a likely result we can evaluate for ourselves.

Also notable is what’s missing. Apparently, there’s no consensus regarding health care. Overall, it’s an interesting list.