A couple of years ago, when writing a review of a rather thin offering by a respectable scholar, I found myself struggling to keep from becoming snide and catty. I had learned that writing a professional review is quite different from tossing off cutting remarks on a blog post; I felt I had a responsibility to give my readers information useful in their own decision-making and had come to understand that a review is not simply an opportunity to preen and attack. After all, no one is going to read a book review I write because of me; they are going to read it because they already have an interest in the subject or the author and want to decide whether or not to pursue the particular volume.
Bob Garfield, whose On the Media NPR show is a favorite of mine, has a snarky piece on the op-ed page of The New York Times today about BuzzFeed‘s decision to ban negative book reviews. He sees this as bringing “us one step closer to my two lifelong dreams: first, a newspaper that delivers only good news; and second, diet bacon.”
He’s got a point. But it really isn’t quite so simple. Continue reading
If you’re on Twitter, you probably know about a ritual called “Friday Follow.” It’s a tradition in which people recommend to their followers other people whose Tweets might interest them. While I know this isn’t Twitter, I thought I’d bring the work of one of my tweeps to the attention of readers here because it’s very much in line with what this blog is all about.
Rebecca Schuman is an adjunct professor of German at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She is also the new higher education columnist at the online magazine Slate. Earlier this week, she brought a lot of attention to what’s going on these days at Minnesota State University Moorhead:
Faculty members at MSUM make up 72 of its 100 highest paid employees (filter by “Moorhead” for accurate results), so the elbow patches on their blazers make them an easy target indeed. The issue, however, is that they are all pesky tenured, full professors who can’t be fired—or so most people think. But in fact you can fire a tenured professor—it’s just not easy. It’s one of the many misconceptions about tenure that one has a job for life no matter what. Tenured professors can be dismissed for cause (sexual harassment, ethics violations, acting alarmingly toward students, or just talking too much). But it would cost MSUM more than the university’s budget shortfall in legal fees to try to dismiss four dozen faculty members with cause. Another way to let go of tenured professors is to disband their departments. So, yes, MSUM can make up its shortfall by canning a few dozen of its best-paid professors, via axing their whole departments—call the collateral damage “additional savings.”
The phrase “Black Friday” originally derived from the fact that the sales on the extended weekend following Thanksgiving set the tone for the holiday shopping season and thereby determine whether a store will be profitable for the year—or finish in the “black.”
Last year, stores began opening on Thanksgiving Day itself ostensibly so that shoppers can get a jump on the Black Friday crowds, even though Black Friday itself was initially rationalized as a way for shoppers to get a jump on the crowded stores during the Christmas season.
But the phrase “Black Friday” has increasingly come to suggest the dark side of American prosperity, a sort of deranged exercise in concentrated commercialism, in unconstrained materialism.
Indeed, the day has become an internationally reported event that is not doing anything to enhance the image of the U.S. abroad.
What follows is what the British newspaper The Guardian reported last year: Continue reading
On Black Friday–the day on which Walmart workers and other underpaid U.S. workers are engaged in actions to bring attention to their exploitation by some of America’s largest corporations–the following speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren seems very apropos. Senator Warren speaks most pointedly about the need to sustain and even to expand Social Security, but she does so by framing that issue within the broader economic struggles of many working Americans.
The Retirement Crisis
Floor Speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren
November 18, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery
I rise today to talk about the retirement crisis in this country–a crisis that has received far too little attention, and far too little response, from Washington.
I spent most of my career studying the economic pressures on middle class families– families who worked hard, who played by the rules, but who still found themselves hanging on by their fingernails. Starting in the 1970s, even as workers became more productive, their wages flattened out, while core expenses, things like housing and health care and sending a kid to college, just kept going up.
Working families didn’t ask for a bailout. They rolled up their sleeves and sent both parents into the workforce. But that meant higher childcare costs, a second car, and higher taxes. So they tightened their belts more, cutting spending wherever they could. Adjusted for inflation, families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases. When that still wasn’t enough to cover rising costs, they took on debt–credit card debt, college debt, debt just to pay for the necessities. As families became increasingly desperate, unscrupulous financial institutions were all too happy to chain them to financial products that got them into even more trouble — products where fine print and legalese covered up the true costs of credit. Continue reading
On this holiday, in almost every community across America, there are service groups and sometimes individual families who have made a tradition out of preparing and serving Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who would not have the means to provide such a dinner for themselves. In some communities, the same service groups have sustained this tradition over decades and decades, and it remains one of the singular demonstrations of our continuing sense of community and our continuing commitment to social justice.
But the gap between what those service groups are able to provide on a single holiday and what our community food pantries are able to provide year round demonstrates the limits in privately provided safety nets for the impoverished. The commitment is much more consistent than the available resources.
Given the rising rates of income inequality and working poor in this country, the funding for SNAP, more commonly known as the food-stamp program, should be expanded and not reduced. Here is an infographic and a chart that factually demonstrate the scope of the need and that expose the ideologically driven lie that this safety-net program is somehow rife with abuse and therefore over-funded.
The following are Thanksgiving-themed advertisements that demonstrate that the passage of time is, indeed, a mixed blessing. In our nostalgia, we often forget details that, when recollected, make us feel a little more positive about the present.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a link on Facebook to a story on the high cost of higher education and student debt. Someone responded that he had worked his way through school so had no sympathy with struggling students today. I was not surprised. Often, the people unwilling to help those in need pulled themselves from the same poverty. Their sympathy is guarded and their expectations measured on a balance scale.
They made it, after all, on their own (or so they believe)… so why can’t others? Why should others get more than they got?
But let me move on: Continue reading
In one of his most dubious arguments by analogy, Rush Limbaugh has compared the end of the filibuster on cabinet appointees and judicial nominees to the possibility that rape could be legally condoned. Here is a transcript of his comments on his radio show:
“”Forget the Senate for a minute. Let’s say, let’s take 10 people in a room, and they’re a group. And the room is made up of six men and four women. Right? The group has a rule that the men cannot rape the women. The group also has a rule that says any rule that will be changed must require six votes of the 10 to change the rule.
“Every now and then, some lunatic in the group proposes to change the rule to allow women to be raped. But they never were able to get six votes for it. There were always the four women voting against it and they always found two guys.
“Well, the guy that kept proposing that women be raped finally got tired of it, and he was in the majority, and he was one that [said], ‘You know what? We’re going to change the rule. Now all we need is five.’ “And well, ‘you can’t do that.’ ‘Yes, we are. We’re the majority. We’re changing the rule.’ Continue reading
This announcement may be somewhat dated, but it is the first that I have seen it. I think that everyone should be aware of it, even if your institution is not participating. And it is possible that they may still be looking for institutions to participate.
Kick Wall St. Off Campus!
Investigation & Research Wiki
From toxic interest rate swaps by Wall St. execs turned administrators in California to pay to play schemes in New York and Texas that made one lender “preferred” while financial aid officers owned its stock, we have seen countless examples over the last few years of Wall St. cashing in on higher ed.
In collaboration with the student debt campaign, the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) is launching a project to help campus based activists research the connections between their universities and Wall Street, and the ways in which Wall Street is skimming profits from higher ed. PAI will be setting up a dedicated campaign portal and series of research groups on LittleSis.org, (the opposite of “Big Brother”), our flagship investigative research site. We will also be publishing a research guide and running a series of research trainings with students on select campuses.
We are working to identify five public universities at which to pilot the project during the next two months (starting in Nov. 2013). If you would like your university (or system) to participate, please email Whitney Yax at firstname.lastname@example.org. Continue reading
If anything characterizes the current period, it may be that when prominent people behave badly, they typically issue apologies that, at best, come across as half-hearted. Either the regret being expressed is undercut by persistent notes of self-justification, or the apologies seem very calculated attempts to mitigate the personal consequences, rather than the public impact, of the offending behavior.
Against such a backdrop, this letter, written by several Kenyon College students to their campus community, seems singularly sincere and thoughtful. Indeed, since the offense that they felt necessitated the apology was completely unintentional, the apology stands out as a demonstration of a type of civility that has become a very rare commodity in our public discourse.
Dear Kenyon Students, Faculty, Staff, and Administration:
Two nights ago, we put white sheets with painted black eyes over our heads and walked around campus. Our idea, born of Kenyon bucket-list fancy, was to pose as ghosts on a haunted campus. Our action ended up materializing many more severe ghosts—both within ourselves and our peers—than we knew existed. Continue reading