Whom to congratulate with DOMA?

On the one hand, you always want to say hooray with people who find their status as rights-holders affirmed. On the other, I think the congratulations should go to the rest of us. DOMA was always a stupid idea, as is state-controlled marriage in the first place, and we’ve wasted far too much time in the public sphere on trying deny people equal status. When are we going to figure out that people don’t put up with it and just stop trying it?

I haz a theory that Millennials read differently than I (Gen X) do

I’m noticing something, which I shall, as usual, turn into a probably specious generalization. BUT IT’S INTERESTING.

One of the things the amazing and brilliant Lisa Bates got on my case about. In particular: with reading a “blog post about blog post” (which I admit I didn’t know was a Special Thing), I didn’t read the links. Her notion, I think, was I was being a lazy reader for not following the links and reading those. My interpretation: I didn’t know blog posts could be about other blog posts, and I don’t follow all the links out of politeness to the writer of the original post. If you go leaving his/her post, you almost never get back. Or do you? I almost never do! I go click the link to read that, and that post has got links, and you gotta go click on those, and soon enough you have to go to the bathroom and then you’ve got a student in your office and then the dean and then something else and so you never get to the first writer’s conclusion. So I tend not to follow ANY link unless it is a link back to the original news story, or the original blog post.

I don’t tend to use links as *reporting* where people are meant to follow them in order to understand my meaning. I use links to point to original points and essays and then summarize those points as I understand them–I also use them to hat tip.

A “meta” post–like a blog post about blog posts suggests a different type of read than essay reading. How does one DO blog posts about blog posts? Do you read the original writing in its entirety and THEN go back through for links? How does one select which links to read, on the assumption that reading one essay’s link will probably take you to another essay with links? Do you a priori select which links you are going to read first, and then go down the order that way? This is far more like putting together a puzzle than reading an essay.

Or do you just scat about clinking links here and there? How does one learn what writers are saying that way? I DO NOT KNOW. Somebody must know. TELL ME.

The OTHER thing I have noticed is that my students do not mind polemics about things that have no reporting, or polemical titles for essays or articles that they otherwise like. My planning students will circulate “Stupid government planners outwitted by artist” as a title with comments like “dumb title but great article!” Whereas I take titles very seriously. The article I just mentioned (and that’s not its title, but it might as well be), for instance, has a discussion of how city planners fostered the program that enabled artists to come up with a better design for something they wanted to communicate in a high profile way. Now, that’s hardly “governments planners being outwitted.” It’s almost like this generation of readers has simply become used to having their core values in place, they just don’t take it seriously when people use cheesy polemic to try to grab eyeballs, and they don’t see that sensationalism as part of the *reporting* (which makes it weak to my mind) but, instead, as an inevitable part of the marketing.

I have no idea if any of these impressions are right or not, but this is what I am thinking about today. What are you thinking about?

Gays, adoption, and the legal toolkit without marriage

Today we are all paying attention to SCOTUS.  Gabriel Rossman discusses a clip from Liberace that involves adoption, and where Rossman notes that it is a ‘kinship dodge.’ He is focussed on sociology. I noted that adoption is one of the legal tools that homosexual couples have in order to do the things that heterosexual couples attain by right in most states, such as inheritance, insurance, and medical decision-making. In my comments, I wrote:

One couple decided to make the move to adoption when member of the partnership was in a serious car accident, and when her partner of 34 years rushed to hospital, she was refused visitation–the hospital security guards actually escorted her out and closed the glass doors in her face– because she ‘wasn’t family.’ The biological family took this whole episode as a chance to….accomplish what I am not sure, other than profound unkindness to both women; but during the one partner’s six week recovery and PT the other partner was refused entry and was restricted to telephone calls. Oh, and cards and gifts she sent were thrown away by the “real family.” Classy. So as soon as soon as the one partner got out they lawyered up and the lawyer actually suggested adoption–with it came the ability to set up power-of-attorney both ways and a bunch of other stuff that heterosexual marriage simply conveys. IOW, adoption has been an expensive legal means to get the same legal bundle of entitlements that heterosexual pairs just get for being married. The law is strongly tilted towards blood family and married couples. Robert Benevides was Raymond Burr’s partner AND business partner for 40 years, and Burr’s niece–his NIECE–kept Benevides in court for ages on pretty thin rationale…but had they been married her burden for getting INTO court at all would have been greater, let alone the burden for contesting the will.

I have to admit, I’ve always been with the libertarians on marriage: it’s not the state’s business. If churches want to do it, fine.  States should just stick to the business of creating generic contracts and not get worried about the physical equipment the parties show up with.

Esteemed friend and real-deal lawyer Jesse Richardson writes to add:

You don’t have to be related by blood or adoption to be appointed power of attorney. EVERYONE should have a power of attorney and you should appoint whoever you wish (as long as they are at least 18 years old and competent). You could even include in the power of attorney the power to visit the hospital, etc. May not be enforceable, but you can do it to set out your wishes. You should also do a separate medical power of attorney and living will/advance medical directive (the latter is optional, depending on your wishes). Some people aren’t comfortable with a medical power of attorney, but in the unmarried couple situation (regardless of sexual orientation), it’s probably a good idea.

Just to further clarify, spouses are not automatically the power of attorney for each other. Married couples should do powers of attorney as well. Once we turn 18, we have no guardian and no one can make decisions for us (even our spouse).

Unmarried couples should also consider nonmarital partnership agreements.

Finally, once you do a medical power of attorney and/or living will/advance medical directive (do several originals), take it to your doctor the next time you see the doctor. Give it to the doctor, discuss it with them. Take another with you on trips, where the doctor, if one is needed, may not know you.

In which I have an Asperger-y moment right here

I had the misfortune of going to a meeting the other day, and somebody said “Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” This makes no sense. What is the point of having cake if not to eat it? Why would one simply want to be in possession of a cake, if one were not going to eat it? I sort of understand that the intent to mean that if you consume something, you can’t save it or keep it. Fine. But saving cake leaves you with stale, moldy cake in short order. What possible virtue is there to moldy cake?

People are confusing.

When outlines ATTACK

Seriously, WTF is wrong with me? So here’s one of the dangers of LaTex. I had a manuscript that in March I thought was pretty much ready to resubmit. It’s a revise and resubmit. The reviewers were uncommonly generous because the first draft was, in the words of my colleague, Martin Krieger, “a mess.” Unfortunately, telling me something is a mess does not help me clean it up, and in revising, I basically rewrote the thing, and sent it to ACSP, where we discussed, and then I rewrote it again. I was pretty happy with it. It’s time to send this thing out.

Well, turns out, the journal doesn’t take things in pdf form, which means I got to start the lovely work of translating something that had a million billion footnotes into word. So I started that work and then….eyugh I started to see problems in the reasoning and the narrative. I could see why I was struggling to get to a conclusion. I started rearranging.

I then went to lunch with my writing group and started talking about the misery of reworking. One of my very well-respected senior scholars, Rapheal Bostic, gave out a very good bit of advice: “Don’t. Just stop. If it was fine in LaTex, it’s fine in Word.”

I tried, I really did. I went back to my office and started cutting and pasting and trying not to look at the problems, but I couldn’t help myself. I started futzing again and Phbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbt. Soon, my entire argument had collapsed into a giant steaming pile of pooh.

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One has only two choices when this occurs, after one drinks heavily. One can let the paper go and assume you never had thesis to begin with, or you go back to the original outline and see what’s what. I went back to my original outline to discover I first wrote a draft of this manuscript in 2007. 2–effing–007.

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I printed off a copy of the paper and took out a pair of scissors and starting cutting it apart, rearranging paragraphs and even sentences. Wrote another thesis statement, started outlining, discovered that thesis was wrong, and finally figured out that the reason I’m having so much trouble here is that I started a new paper in the middle of this paper with an entirely different theme that is sort of connected and sort of not connected, but connectable in a way of if you were writing a book, which I am not. I kept telling myself to cut that material, but I liked it, and I just had to find a way to make it fit. But it doesn’t. So yesterday I finally managed to cut it out and put it in its own file, where it sits, like a baby bird chucked out of the nest, bald and sad and ready to die.

So now there is the remainder, and I worked until about midnight last night trying to make sure there was an argument there. Now, I have to go back and revise my thesis, and re-read it. I laid there last night after getting to the conclusions; somehow, my struggles with this paper have become a metaphor in my head for whether I can ever possibly manage to do anything other than descriptive, empirical work, and I entered into despair by 2 am.

This is called over-thinking.

So today I go back and look at the outline again, and see how well I have filled it out. I have discovered a couple more books to read. My goal is to have it re-assembled with a conclusion by Friday. Then I will let it cook again. I think I have it this time, but…I’ve said that before with this paper.

And I get to go to my writing accountability group lunch and admit that I undid work that I thought was done. I LOVE THIS PLAN.

And the black rhino enters oblivion

Cnn reports the Black Rhino has been declared extinct. Gee, I wonder what all those men needing rhino horns for their hard-ons will do now? Assholes.

Robert James Waller became rich and rather famous with his Bridges of Madison County, but he is a fine writer of essays, and among my favorites is in a bookcalled “Old Songs in a New Cafe.” The essay, entitled, My Name Is Orange Band, is written from the perspective of the last dusky seaside sparrow, who died in 1987. There is a lot of anthropomorphizing–we are talking about a sparrow after all–and yet I strongly suspect that even sparrows know when he is dying utterly alone.

Death driving the bus in Guatemala

I just finished up writing a chapter where I argued that unionized labor in transportation, though a favorite whipping boy, has some pretty good reasons to be unionized, in that operating transit vehicles is a pretty difficult job. My claim was greeted with incredulity, largely by a reviewer whom I’m pretty sure has never had a job in his entire life that didn’t involve sitting on his butt in front of a computer. Driving a commercial vehicle is difficult ergonomically, making the route’s time points can be difficult and stressful in mixed traffic, and then you have to deal with clueless and jerk face customers on top of that. It’s a hard job, and transit advocates seldom stop to think about how crucial operators and their morale is to overall level of service.

Anyway, I’m sticking to my guns on the point in the chapter, and this recent write up of the dangers of bus driving in Guatemala from The New Republic reinforced the point. No rule of law means no rule of law, and everywhere becomes dangerous, but the whole story is both amazing in the bravery of the operators and in the horrible conditions that govern their work:

There, in the crowded office, the phone lit up. A man’s voice came on the line. It was calm, almost pleasant. You’re going to pay us taxes now, the voice said: 8,000 quetzales a week—about $1,000. If you don’t, we’re going to start killing your bus drivers.

The star professor and what they are for

I’ve spent a good number of years studying the university star system, informally, with the idea that I would be one of these academ-o-stars someday. (I’m not. Quite sad, that. I’ve decided that in my field to be a start you must be in an independent department, perhaps in a liberal arts college, because the other disciplines where planners are usually housed (architects or economists and political scientists) tend to form torch-wielding mobs at the mere thought that a planner might be a star within planning, let alone in the Massively Much More Important Worlds of economists and architecture.  )

It’s actually really quite mysterious to me what makes for an academ-o-star in the first place. I completely understand why Manuel Castells is famous, but Stanley FIsh’s stardom has always fuddled me, and I have to say, so have various others over the years I’m too polite to mention.

Contrary to the Coursera idea that these “stars” are great classroom teachers, universities do not hire anybody because they are a “star” teacher.  The people with highest teaching evaluations and most encomiums and sincerest dedication to teaching get “oh, that’s nice” from their administrators, so long as those activities don’t crowd out publishing.  I’ll be the first to say that good teaching and good research supplement each other, but you can’t be seen as letting teaching eclipse your research, and it really doesn’t matter how much you produce in research: if the students think too highly of you…there will be the lingering suspicion that you could have done more research had you not squandered time on being available to the people who actually pay the university’s bills.

That said, what are star professors?  Star professors are the ones that line up many citations; they are people that other scholars recognize. Professors who are stars have a ‘brand’–a set of contributions for which they are associated, and those contributions are considered important.  Usually, stars bring money–federal money, optimally.  Stars bring the attention of other scholars at other universities to you so that your university might move up the rankings. Those rankings in USA Today matter like crazy to the minds of the administrator.

It helps if your stars like to write op-eds and talk on tv, particularly for us in policy schools.  And yeah, being handsome or pretty is jackpot: see Ferguson, Niall.

Star faculty are used, as I pointed out on Facebook, like the Picasso in the exhibition: they get people through the door to see the rest of the non-famous, but probably worthy,  parts of the exhibit, just like the Tony or Academy Award winner gets more eyes on the play or movie.  The other actors may be benefit from this, but it’s not clear. Try looking at the promotional materials for VT and see if you can find one that doesn’t prominently feature Nikki Giovanni.

Other rules, less rational in a market.

1.  The person you must lure from a university 900 miles away is a star; the person with pretty much the same record already working for you is infinitely unworthy compared to that person 900 miles away.

2.  Teaching is immaterial to how much research one should produce, unless is letting a star out of teaching.  To wit: one will say to one’s dean, “oh, my, I’m disappointed in my raise this year. What’s the deal? Whom should I be looking to as exemplars.” He will say “Star X and Star Y outproduced you in publication by a lot.”  One responds: “But Star X only teaching one class a year with 10 students in it, and Star Y teaches 2 classes a year, and I teach four classes a year with 50 students each in it.”  Dean: Blank stare, then “but they publish more than you.”  The assumption, of course, is that your teaching is easy and must take you no time whatsoever, but that when it comes to negotiating, stars may of course be rewarded with low teaching duties because, well, teaching is so time-consuming.

The death of the university will have to wait a bit while Coursera markets to them

Bringing star proffies to the masses wasn’t the pot of gold that Coursera thought it was.  Their millions and millions and bajillions of students, all of whom were simply waiting to listen to the Star Proffies yielded the company $200K in the first quarter of this year.  Among the free content available to Cousera included Michael Sandel and other Harvard stars. One of those stars, Clayton Christensen, gleefullly pronounced that in 15 years, most universities that Aren’t Harvard would be  bankrupt insects crushed under the feet  of the New Educational Model of MOOCs, learning on the job and online.

Has he ever done online training for his job? Does he not know how boring and hideous those are? He needs to take USC’s sexual harassment training class online. It’s truly one of the most fearsomely dull experiences you can have outside of a waiting room at an  autobody shop.

(As his website notes, he’s the World’s Top Management  Thinker.”) Oh boy.

Well, instead, Coursera is going to want those insects to stay around because it recently announced that they are jettisoning their MOOC certification strategy to compete in the learning managment system (LMS) market instead. That’s right: they are taking on Blackboard. From a purely self-interested perspective, that’s awesome, not because I ever really worried about losing my job to the MOOC revolution, but because Blackboard sucks and it well could use some competition.

Higher education strategy associates blogs here:

Coursera has simply never had a coherent plan to generate revenue.  Oh sure, it had a bunch of ideas about how to do it, which were outlined in this leaked MOU with the University of Michigan, but few seem to have panned out.  The only thing we’ve heard from Coursera is that their idea for charging people for certificates of completion netted $220,000 in Q1 of this year.  Given that Coursera’s annual burn rate seems to be in the neighbourhood of $10M (that’s on top of their partners spending $50K/course to place it on the Coursera platform), this is peanuts.  Allegedly, they were going to try to make money on a bunch of other things, like being scouts for businesses on the lookout for bright young talent, but there have been no announcements of revenue from these sources.  Given how the tech news industry works, it’s a safe bet that means the figure is close to zero.

Now it’s entirely possible that one of other big MOOC companies, or a new one, will be able to figure out what Cousera’s management could not, or that their venture capital holders just weren’t patient enough to let them figure out.

But I do have to say: one of the reasons I’ve always wondered about the idea that MOOCs were magic and going to disrupt universities was just the simple problem that people who can not afford university educations may not have tons of disposable income to spend on MOOC products, either, and the reliance on numbers to make the $$$$ may miss the market by a lot because MOOCs are not the first idea that was supposed to be cashing in on the big global numbers that have failed to materialize. Bottom billion, any one? Undoubtedly an important group, but they’ve been devilishly hard to market to.  Scanning through online life course sites and programs…these charge about $100 a week and up to belong to (not kidding).  That’s expensive.

There are lots of people who are likely happy to download and watch lectures by Mike Sandel (he really is quite a good lecturer), but the number of people who want to commit to doing anything even remotely resembling work is much lower, and even lower than that are probably the number of people willing to pay for credit in this way. The number of people walking through the door at universities who are really college-ready strikes me as dwindling. The idea that they can just log in and flourish, even with online peer help, strikes me as silly. (They’ve had peer help all along; why is it magical just because it’s online?)

After months and months of listening to people crow about how I was going to be out of job (since when was that anything other than bad manners, btw?),  I have to say my favorite writing about MOOCs came from New York Times  freelancer A.J. Jacobs with Grading the MOOC university. This is a guy who doesn’t have a dog in the fight. He’s not a blowhard like Christensen reveling in his position in the university status hierarchy and kicking mud at the rest of us non-famous schmucks. He’s also not one of us non-famous schmucks just trying to do our jobs in a hostile world that keeps telling us how useless  we are.  He just took a few classes and wrote about them. Here’s a  sample:

Consider my history study group, which met at a Brooklyn diner. Well, “met” might be a generous verb. I showed up, but no one else did. A few days later, my Twitter study-buddy also blew me off.

and what I’ve always suspected:

But MOOCs provided me with the thrill of relatively painless self-improvement and an easy introduction to heady topics. And just as important, they gave me relief from the guilt of watching “Swamp People.”

I think online content has a great deal to offer, and like Jacobs, I really enjoy watching online lectures and learning new things this way, too, and I”m not hostile to the notion we might be able to share content in new and exciting ways, and it would be wonderful if higher education became more accessible and more affordable.

But I am dubious that a recording of Mike Sandel replaces me entirely, for only a tiny part of my teaching job involves lectures, and I doubt very much that the care, decency, and experience I try to bring to my colleagues and students can be  replaced by a Twitter buddy.  Excuse me if that makes me a self-interested dinosaur unwilling to see the Revolution waiting to fall on poor, non-famous me.