Barbara Jordan’s 1976 DNC speech , Black history, Women’s history, LGBTQ history getting made, all at once

With HRC’s presumptive nominee status, people have been remember Shirley Chisolm, who was the first woman to run for president (in 1972). These conversations, and the upcoming convention, have me thinking about Barbara Jordan. I remember her 1976 convention speech like it was yesterday: I was only just in elementary school, but my father was a local politician and he watched the conventions, both sides, obsessively. I thus did, too. To a little kid with a bad stutter and poor diction, she lit up my mind.

Barbara Jordan’s speech was a work of art. And I loved it: I loved the way crowd came alive. I loved the Texas theme song. I loved her pastel mint suit with the unapologetically frilly neck doodad. I loved how the crowd loved.

I still make my students in my social policy class watch the speech because it wasn’t always shameful to discuss the welfare state in American politics, and people should see and remember the work of Black of politicians. I still point people to it whenever I can because she was incredible. It’s also good to remind people that many of the problems we think we only have today have been with us awhile.

Less well known is that Ms. Jordan seems to have had a lifelong partner, which makes me happy.

She only lived another 19 years after this speech, which she gave when she was 40. Too young, damn it. Neither she nor Representative Chisolm lived to see President Obama in the Oval Office, which makes me sad, because they helped him get there.

It was a historic moment, it was a very good vision for the welfare state, and she was magnificent:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Performance measurement: impossible or essential? Alnoor Ebrahim gets me thinking

Harvard’s Alnoor Ebrahim gave a very nice talk during our our Philanthropy and Nonprofit seminar yesterday; I feel rather bucked in that I lured a number of my planning colleagues to attend and a bunch of my PhD students. Alnoor was one of my favorite colleagues when I was at VT, and his talk was really quite informative. He focused in depth on the extent to which foundations and nonprofits attempt to formulate performance indicators for social phenemena in order to nail down both controls and causality. Many organizations can’t go that deep: they just count clients served or outputs in some way. Still, others do try to measure such abstruse things as child poverty reduction or economic development, and he is attempting to derive theory about what leads organizations to do that, and what organizations–funders or the nonprofits themselves–are really in a position to examine outcomes.

He started us off with a question that I found myself rather fascinated with: is performance measurement impossible or essential? He referred us to some lectures worth listening to by Onora O’Neil for the BBC called “A Matter of Trust.” Alnoor raised her points about the problems with performance measurement, but he never really returned to them as, from there, he focusses in on the state of the practice in the field. The two big concerns about the measurement focus that I gleaned from O’Neil were:

1. It’s possible that our focus on measurement causes us to disregard what is difficult to measure about progress in the social sphere, and thus, the missions and strategies of helping institutions become rather small and constrained. That is, the bean-counting causes us to focus on beans that can be counted, rather than seeking to deal with social issues in all their difficult-to-measure complexity; and

2. There are transactions costs and compliance costs associated with all these performance measures, and the more of our resources we expend on measuring how well we’ve done at delivering service means fewer resources with which to actually deliver service. Making funding contingent on the ability to demonstrate that service is delivered in a particular way may favor those institutions who are good at #1 (cherry picking easy things) and #2.

Neither of which strike me as particularly good for social policy, though you can measure the last one.

Baby Boomers: Selfish?

I have trouble believing any of the generalizations about generations–it’s like assertions about people’s personalities based on birth order–so vague that most could be anything and everything. And temporal boundaries in analysis are similar to spatial boundaries in geographic analysis: they’re impressionistic and yet still meaningful, but you can still get up to all sorts of analytical shenanigans by how you choose to cluster data points.

Francis Beckett of the The Gaurdian opines, however, that UK Boomers are selfish and powerful; they have pulled up the ladder they climbed and left their children with a far harsher, rather than better, world:

Harold Wilson saved the baby boomers from having to fight alongside young Americans in Vietnam. When the baby boomer generation formed a government, its prime minister, Tony Blair, told lies to the young so that he could send them to fight alongside the Americans in Iraq. Opinion polls show that the now elderly baby boomers will use their increasing voting power to ensure that when the bad times come, the young are hit first, even though it is by a chancellor of the exchequer who was not even born until the 60s were over. When the baby boomers were young, they believed society could afford student grants; now they are old, they think it can afford pensions. I say it can afford both – but only if young and old alike learn to care for each other.

link: Baby boomers: powerful and selfish | Francis Beckett | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

What do you think? I rather think there’s something to be said for this, not on character but on demographics. If you are voting majority, you get distributive powers. It’s not clear that people vote their pocketbook, but it’s an interesting set of worries. Why would the Boomers do this type of thing to their kids? If Beckett is correct, perhaps it’s an intergenerational game where they think theirs will be provided for via inheritance–and who cares about others’ kids? (The private school public school rationale, writ over a greater variety of social policies programs?)


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