Archive for the 'owned' Category

18
Dec
11

Sic semper tyrannis.

Kim Jong Il is dead. Here’s hoping the Korean Peninsula doesn’t burn.

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24
Jun
11

Is This What They’re Teaching Them Over in the Journalism School?

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken pot shots at the poor old Oregon Daily Emerald. Hell, it’s been awhile since I’ve even bothered to pick up an issue. Sitting in the storied old Cafe Siena this afternoon, however, I made the mistake of taking a glance at the “opinion” page for this week’s issue.

Now, it’s no secret that the quality of the ODE’s opinion writers, never stellar to begin with, has witnessed in the last half-decade or so a steady decline into what can only be called “pedestrian sub-mediocrity.” Each year, one subjects oneself to another round of banal “first post!” essays by the new pack of commentators in the vain hope that — just maybe! — one of them will claw their way out of the scum and the muck, take a few gasping breaths, and say something moderately interesting. Or at least hilariously stupid. Each year, alas, one is inevitably disappointed.

So it was today, reading Ian McKivor’s “inaugural column” — a rather lofty way of referring to what is is essence a fairly uninteresting blog post, which is ironic, since the gist of his piece is that blogs are like… bad, and stuff. And not just bad, but dangerous. No, really:

People are idiots, and people who read blogs and take their word for it are dangerous idiots. They aren’t just a danger to themselves, but to those around them and society at large. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that they are a major source of societal regression.

“Societal regression.” Got that?

Unfortunately, after dropping that bombshell on his readers, the esteemed author has nowhere left to go but straight back to 1995, making the staggeringly fresh case that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet:

Any schmuck with an opinion can get on the web, set up a WordPress account and go to town spewing out whatever vapid crap happens to get into his head. [“Vapid crap” you say? Perish the thought. -ed] A blogger doesn’t have to have any experience in the field in which they write, nor do they have to adhere to the most basic tenants [sic] of journalistic professionalism or integrity.

So, in effect, they can pass off filth as fact while remaining anonymous. And oh, by the way, people will believe them en masse for the same reasons people believe everything they see on TV. Brilliant.

“Brilliant.” Took the words right out of my mouth, he did. Ahem.

McKivor then launches into a clumsy philippic against Tom Macmaster, the cybernetic crossdresser who got his thrills masquerading as a Syrian lesbian on websites before it came out (no pun intended) that he was neither Syrian nor a woman, to say nothing of a lesbian. While it’s hard to take issue with the spirit of his condemnation of Macmaster, McKivor’s amateurish prose effectively blunts whatever power the one and only example backing up his thesis might’ve had. Example:

MacMaster never had to face the looming threat of imprisonment, intense torture and eventual death at the hands of some demented regime. He was safe in Scotland, probably writing at a Starbucks with an Exxon Valdez-sized Latte [sic] in hand without even contemplating the harm he was doing.

“Probably writing at a Starbucks with an Exxon Valdez-sized latte?” From whence does our intrepid reporter come by these details? Or maybe he’s just engaging in a sly performative joke intended to illustrate why we can’t believe everything we read. Yeah… maybe that’s it.

One could go on, of course — the expected, sneering reference to “blind sheep” (what, no “sheeple?”) comes in toward the end, as does an unintentionally funny suggestion to go watch a documentary called “Talhotblond” if you’re not already convinced by McKivor’s dazzling  rhetoric about how dangerous online anonymity can be. Finally, we’re assured that we can trust the things we read in the mainstream media — because it’s fact checked, you see.

The problem is that, as monumentally hollow and paralyzingly routine as McKivor’s piece is, it nevertheless serves as a powerful example of how far standards have fallen. Is the sort of err.. “incisive criticism” and “sterling prose” — to say nothing of the lunk-headed Luddism — that they’re peddling over in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism these days? Why would anyone pay for such a self-evidently worthless degree? And is this drooling scribbler really the best the Emerald  could dredge up for next year?

Alas, McKivor himself gives away the answer in his very first sentence:

Because this is my inaugural column for the Oregon Daily Emerald, I feel I should start things off by making my stance clear, just so all of you know what to expect from my weekly opinion column.

Ah. So puerile rubbish, then. Wonderful.

Glad I won’t be around to read it.

10
Mar
11

“You’re really anti-choice”

Senator Rand Paul, kicking ass and taking names:

So is this what a crazy Tea Party Congressman bent on destroying the foundations of government sounds like?  If so, more please.

08
Mar
11

Shameless Self-Promotion

I’ve been bored. So I made a few cartoons. You can watch all three of the current episodes here. I probably be adding more of these over time, whenever I feel inspired (or bored enough) to spend the time.

Enjoy!

26
Feb
11

“Is Our Children Learning?” Part, the Second.

The situation, alas, is dire:

What good does it do to increase the number of students in college if the ones who are already there are not learning much? Would it not make more sense to improve the quality of education before we increase the quantity of students?

[…]

Students are adrift almost everywhere, floating in the wreckage of a perfect storm that has transformed higher education almost beyond recognition.

Politicians and the public are quick to blame college faculty members for the decline in learning, but professors—like all teachers—are working in a context that has been created largely by others: Few people outside of higher education understand how little control professors actually have over what students can learn.

The author goes on to list lack of student preparation, grade inflation, and plummeting admissions standards among a number of  other reasons that a Bachelor’s degree is becoming an increasingly worthless piece of paper that otherwise disinterested undergraduates feel entitled to after slouching their way through four (or five, or six) years of college. I have to say, unfortunately, that I largely agree with his assessment. College is swiftly turning into “high school without parents, but with more partying and more debt.”

In my experience, even excellent students are sometimes cowed by the fact that they’re outnumbered 30-1 in the classroom by peers who, simply by showing up and spending their time texting, doodling, or playing around on Facebook, are creating a massive wall of inertia that resists any attempt to create an environment were learning can happen. If the instructor or professor tries to do anything more with the class than simply providing a PowerPoint slide with a list of bullet points that give the answers to next week’s quiz, many students will simply not participate Assigned reading is simply ignored, and usually resented. “Increasingly,” writes Benton,

…undergraduates are not prepared adequately in any academic area but often arrive with strong convictions about their abilities. So college professors routinely encounter students who have never written anything more than short answers on exams, who do not read much at all, who lack foundational skills in math and science, yet are completely convinced of their abilities and resist any criticism of their work, to the point of tears and tantrums: “But I earned nothing but A’s in high school,” and “Your demands are unreasonable.” Such a combination makes some students nearly unteachable.

“Studying,” or so one undergraduate told a colleague of mine, “is only part of college.” For many, it seems to be the least important part. Moreover,

[i]t has become difficult to give students honest feedback. The slightest criticisms have to be cushioned by a warm blanket of praise and encouragement to avoid provoking oppositional defiance or complete breakdowns. As a result, student progress is slowed, sharply. Rubric-driven approaches give the appearance of objectivity but make grading seem like a matter of checklists, which, if completed, must ensure an A. Increasingly, time-pressured college teachers ask themselves, “What grade will ensure no complaint from the student, or worse, a quasi-legal battle over whether the instructions for an assignment were clear enough?” So, the number of A-range grades keeps going up, and the motivation for students to excel keeps going down.

This also matches up with my experiences fairly well. The expectation is that an “A” grade is the baseline, and only by making serious errors should a score decline from there. Instructors routinely receive student evaluations complaining that their grades were too low because they felt that they were graded on the quality of their writing, rather than the brilliance of their ideas, as if the two can be meaningfully separated. “This was not an English class. It was unfair to have been graded on my writing.”

Unfortunately, reforming American higher education faces a feedback loop that will be extremely difficult to change. Parents, believing that their children won’t be able to get ahead in life without going to college, frequently push their kids to go to college no matter what. In the end, the glut of degree holders fosters a mentality among employers that potential employees who don’t hold a degree are inferior to their credentialed peers. A Bachelor’s degree has thus become a minimum requirement even for positions where the skills ostensibly learned during the course of a 4 year degree program are of little or no use. This expectation, in turn, reinforces parents’ belief in the necessity of going to college.

Meanwhile, universities are in the middle, happily raking in millions of dollars a year from undergraduates, whose useless educations are financed by easy credit. A simple comparison between the staggering growth in administrative budgets and the relatively modest growth in instructional budgets illustrates the ultimate outcome of this: the student body has become little more than a cash cow for the University’s administrative class. In a sort of Faustian bargain, our educational system offers millions of undergraduates the opportunity to enjoy a half decade of irresponsibility after high school. The price of this five years of freedom (punctuated, of course, by unwelcome term papers and resented final exams) is a mountain of debt.

The “educational” aspect this arrangement is looking increasingly like little more than a cheap facade papered over the messy truth: that American higher education is bilking millions out of students each year, and providing almost nothing in return.

25
Feb
11

I Am the Koch Brothers!

A little light comedy for a quiet Friday afternoon:

Keith Schneider and Kerry Sipe (letters, 2/3) invite us to think better of the Tea Party since it’s really about Ron Paul’s ideas, not Glen Beck’s bigotry. OK, but that doesn’t help much. Paul is a libertarian ideologue, and his views accordingly suffer from the foolishness inherent in libertarianism. Please consult Wikipedia on the periodic financial panics of the 19th century, and then explain to us how unregulated markets serve our common interests effectively (hint: they don’t).

Libertarianism is a nonsensical theory of governance. It endorses abandonment of social responsibility by appealing to a juvenile notion of absolute freedom. All due respect to Ron Paul, but his political ideas are stupid and immoral. He may be more polite than Glenn Beck, but he’s no less fatuous.

Speaking of fools, the original Tea Party was not an act of popular tax resistance. It was gang vandalism organized by Boston businessmen wanting to keep the price of tea high, aggressively protecting their own profits. In that sense, our contemporary Tea Party is like the first one: It’s acting on behalf of our corporate masters, advocating policies that harm the working class and society in general. No Nazis here; just misinformed and manipulated morons.

Ken Kirby, Junction City

I was going to try to come up with some witty riposte to the above, but frankly, it’s already kind of its own punchline, don’t you think?

16
Feb
11

Bias

Megan McArdle has a great post up about bias in academia, which is a problem that most academics would like to pretend doesn’t exist. The whole article is worth reading, but here’s the money quote:

One of the things the legacy of racism has taught us is just how good dominant groups are at constructing narratives that justify their dominance.  Somehow, the problem is never them.  It’s always the out group.  Maybe the out group has some special characteristic that makes them not want to be admitted to the circle–blacks are happy-go-lucky and don’t want the responsibility of management, women wouldn’t deign to sully themselves in commerce, Jews are too interested in money to want to attend Harvard or go into public service.  These explanations always oddly ignore the fact that many members of the out-group are complaining about being excluded.

Think about that the next time someone tells you there aren’t any conservatives in academia because they’re “more interested in making money” or “would rather join the military” or, as some studies would have it, are simply too stupid and closed-minded to make the cut.