"Do not think the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries." –Emerson
I finally “disliked” something on Facebook. It wasn’t very difficult, technically speaking, but it was kind of hard to finally hit the button.
A good friend of mine had “liked” an article by Chad Bird, at Flying Scroll, called, “Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral.” Being a language cynic, I found the idea amusing, so I “liked” it, as well.
Eventually, though, I surfed over to the primary source, only to find this:
4. We are not here to mourn Chad’s death, but to celebrate his life. So-called “Celebrations of Life” (which I have written against in “The Tragic Death of the Funeral”) do a disservice to the mourners for they deny or euphemize death. The gift of life cannot fully be embraced if we disregard the reality of death, along with sin, its ultimate cause. Whatever the apparent reason for my decease may be—a sickness, accident, or old age—the real reason is because I was conceived and born in sin, and I built atop that sinful nature a mountain’s worth of actual sins.
My sister’s son recently killed himself, at the age of 20. He was a beautiful person, a light to all who knew him, a transcendent soul. His only sister was married this week, without the presence of her brother. My children loved him dearly, and rightfully so.
Just after my nephew’s death, his life was celebrated before several hundred of those whose lives he had touched. The assertion that such a celebration was some kind of farce, and that his death came from a sinful nature, and that, moreover, he had compounded that sin throughout his short but inspirational life, is odious to me beyond all possibility of comprehension or acceptance.
Every so often, at sacred moments, I find myself drawn back to the faith in which I was born and baptized, and then I come across someone like Chad Bird, and am repulsed again.
BTW: “The Tragic Death of the Funeral” is a distasteful blend of politics and misanthropy. It appears at The Federalist, which is not my favorite web site. Its tone of righteous cruelty makes it a perfect fit there.
A while ago, I wrote about a particular non sequitur that was popularized by Tim Matheson’s famous courtroom speech in Animal House. I called it the Otter Conflation. (One YouTube video of the speech calls it, more simply, “The Otter Defense.”) It’s a kind of straw man argument, in which the defense takes an accusation against a specific instance, and attempts to transfer it, without any intermediate steps, to the entire class of things that the specific instance falls into.
The example I used at the time was a letter from DeVry, Inc., trying to defend the abuses of for-profit colleges (emphasis added):
Over the past two years, Washington has been ground zero in a prolonged and contentious conversation about private-sector higher education. Investigations and hearings by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions into questionable practices at a handful of private-sector institutions have been the talk of the town when it comes to higher education. Frustration directed at higher education is understandable.
It gives you vertigo just reading it. Anyway, the Conflation is back, this time in one of the responses to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article at the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” The response is by Rachel Lu, at The Federalist, who writes,
[Coates] takes us on an extended tour of black history, with the goal of establishing three things. First, racism was a very, very bad thing which did grave injustice to large numbers of black Americans. Second, America’s current prosperity was to a great extent made possible by slavery and other forms of exploitation. Third, black Americans today are struggling in a myriad of ways, and this is a fairly direct consequence of the injustices they have suffered.
This is a fair summary of Coates’ research. Lu even agrees–grudgingly–with part of his historical argument:
Progressives don’t deserve to be given a pass for their ill-conceived policies, but it’s still valuable for conservatives to remember that racism is still relevant to the economic and cultural struggles of black Americans today.
And it’s still relevant to the economic and cultural situation of white Americans today, too, but Lu explicitly rejects that part of the argument. How? Cue the Conflation:
First and most importantly, it’s just not the case that thriving democracies require a foundation in slavery and oppression.
This may very well be true in some instances–Switzerland, maybe–but it’s a complete dodge. Coates writes about the U.S., not “thriving democracies” as a genus. Lu then compounds the error by writing:
In fact, comparing the economic and political fortunes of countries or regions that relied heavily on slavery (such as Brazil) to regions that didn’t (such as Great Britain or the American north), one could quite plausibly make the argument that slavery is economically disadvantageous over the longer term.
Actually, England profited quite nicely from slavery. Liverpool, for instance, grew rich from it. According to the web site for the International Slavery Museum,
Liverpool was a major slaving port and its ships and merchants dominated the transatlantic slave trade in the second half of the 18th century. The town and its inhabitants derived great civic and personal wealth from the trade which laid the foundations for the port’s future growth.
English merchants also grew wealthy from their sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean, while textile mills in England and other “thriving democracies” in Europe were so dependent on cotton from American slave states that the Confederacy tried to leverage its economic influence to gain international support in the Civil War. And later, of course, England would use slavery and oppression in places like China, India, and large swathes of Africa.
I’m not sure what Lu means by the “American north.” If it’s the Union, then she’s wrong again. According to James McPherson, in his book Battle Cry of Freedom,
The states that grew cotton kept less than 5 percent of it at home for manufacture into cloth. They exported 70 percent of it abroad and the remainder to northern mills, where the value added by manufacture equaled the price that raw cotton brought the South…Some 15 or 20 percent of the price of raw cotton went to “factors”…Most of these factors represented northern or British companies.
If one is going to use rhetorical sleight of hand to distract attention, one should at least get the history right.
In the Animal House speech, most of the fun was watching Otter pull off his massive act of bullshitting, when he, everyone else in the room, and everyone in the audience, knew that almost all the charges against Delta House were, in fact, correct.
Once upon a time, I believed that using inmates from Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility to build an ice palace for the town of Saranac Lake, NY, represented the most egregious example of the modern carceral state carrying on the work of American slavery.
After reading a letter I recently found at The CCA 360, the propaganda blog of the Corrections Corporation of America, I have to say I was wrong.
Here’s the back story: A few years ago, CNBC ran a critique of America’s prison industry, which paid special attention to for-profit companies like CCA. In response, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Smith and City Manager Tom Weil, of California City, CA, sent a letter to CNBC defending the city’s contract with CCA to operate its hometown prison, which specializes in illegal immigrants. The letter presented the “positive benefits” that the city has received. (Are there such things as “negative benefits”?) The usual economic benefits are touted, but there are others that disclose why our current prison system–especially when conducted for profit–is pretty much a slaver’s game.
For example, according to the letter, when CCA first won the contract to run the prison in 1999, one benefit was that it “limited several social issues from occurring with California City. Families of the prisoners did not move close to those incarcerated due to their illegal community status.”
The destruction of families is one of the more insidious effects of incarceration, an issue which I’ve seen first hand, and one explored by, among others, Professor Teresa A. Miller, of the University of Buffalo. (See her remarkable Vimeo video, “Gant Family Visit Scene.” Unfortunately, the couple profiled in this video has since divorced.) And The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about slavery’s destruction of the family in his March 26 article, “The Meaning of ‘Totalitarian’.”
But let it not be said that the officials of California City are unsympathetic to family integrity. Later in the letter, Smith and Weil write that, when the initial contract with CCA ended, and the prisoners were dispersed to other facilities,
CCA families were now being torn apart due to reassignments and the home market demise.
In another example from the letter that will ring a bell with anyone familiar with the history of Emancipation:
Finally, our citizenry knew when the prisoners completed their sentence that there was no fear of them released within the community. Instead, their status assured them a bus trip out of the country.
When the masters can no longer benefit from your servitude, it’s time to go! Liberia was the preferred location in the 19th Century, although Lincoln was also open to recolonizing freed slaves in Central and South America, which at least is close enough to Mexico for our current crop of undesirables to feel at home.
Here are the final two reasons that, according to the letter, the end of the CCA contract threatened disaster to California City, and called for immediate action. First:
The City searching for relief from this downward spiral elected to partner with CCA in order to save a once vibrant prison from becoming a vacant shell.
Think about that phrase for a second: “a once vibrant prison.” The Free Dictionary defines “vibrant” as “Pulsing or throbbing with energy or activity…Vigorous, lively and vital.” For anyone who has actually seen the inside of one of these places, a more ignorant and perverted collection of words is almost impossible to imagine.
But here’s where Bill Smith and Tom Weil truly entered new territory, and made me rethink my former opinion on the connection between incarceration and slavery. According to their letter, CCA had to be invited to stay because:
Effluent from the prison that once provided recycled water for the City’s golf course was starting to dry up.
“Effluent” can be read as “sewage.”
If the mayor and the city manager of California City are championing the use of inmates’ bodies so that they–and the employees of CCA–can increase their leisure time, they’re a lot closer to slave owners than I originally thought.
Andrew Brenner, of the Ohio House of Representatives, and vice-chair of the Ohio House Education Committee, has had an epiphany of sorts. It appears that he was digging around in Wikipedia and found out that American public education is, well, public.
For most people, that would probably not come as much of a surprise. But Rep. Brenner’s response is:
Before you even get to the text of his post, which is titled, “Public education in America is socialism, what is the solution?,” you have to scroll by an ominous jpeg of the Hammer & Sickle that’s so large it takes up around 25% of the screen real estate. Actually, he could have started off with this image, instead…
…since it was in 1789 that conservative favorite Thomas Jefferson wrote, in a letter to his legal mentor, George Whyte:
Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
Jefferson left a class of people out, but Brenner has it covered:
So how do we improve our education system so students learn the basics, and learn how to think? The only long-run solution is to move to a more privatized system.
Just kidding. Saw that one coming a mile away.
We must move to a system…where the parents and students have the ultimate say, not state and federal legislators, not unions, not government bureaucrats. In a free market system parents and students are free to go where the product and results are better.
Until all the private schools take up residence in the affluent suburbs, that is, since that’s where they will go when they realize that poor, inner city kids are bringing their scores down and hurting business. And, presumably, since parents and students are free to choose schools, the schools will also be free to say “no.”
The free-market system works for cars, furniture, housing, restaurants, and to a lesser degree higher education, so why can’t it work for our primary education system?
Sort of like this?:
Brenner ends his post with:
Privatize everything and the results will speak for themselves.
All other things being equal, the argument for racial blindness by the government is hard to condemn. But where was this argument three centuries ago, when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were encoding slavery into the Constitution? Or during the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law? Or Dred Scott? Or Presidential Reconstruction? Or redlining?
Or, for that matter, Plessy v. Ferguson, when Judge Henry Billings Brown wrote, in the Decision that entrenched “separate but equal,”
We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.
We’ve had three centuries of Federal involvement in racial matters. Most of it went to create and reinforce the status quo. The rest is currently under attack, from the Voting Rights Act, to Civil Rights legislation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 13th Amendment appearing in the cross hairs next.
Roger Klegg and Jennifer Rubin are clearly enjoying their role as barn-door closers. Meanwhile, they and their peers are firmly astride the escaped horse.
According to CBS, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants New York to start providing college classes to inmates in 10 state prisons. All issues of civility and compassion aside, the evidence in favor of such a move is overwhelming. Here is a fragment of a paper I’ve been working on which presents evidence in support of Cuomo’s proposal. (It’s in MLA format, so there are no hyperlinks. Sorry!)
“Community College Classes for New York Prison Inmates: Why They Make Sense for Everyone”
First of all, offering classes to eligible inmates makes good financial sense. A three credit class at my community college costs $420 for New York residents, and the total yearly cost is estimated to be $8,750, a price which includes such variables as “Personal,” “Board,” and “Transportation” (“College Costs”). Meanwhile, according to a 2009 article in TheNew York Times, “The annual cost to keep someone in prison varies by state, and the type of institution, but the typical cost cited by states is about $35,000, said Peggy Burke of the Center for Effective Public Policy, a nonprofit group that works with local governments on criminal justice matters” (Steinhauer 1). Also, the 2007-2008 Base Level State Tax Request for all SUNY community colleges was just over $425 million (“Budget Request” 53), whereas the Executive Budget for criminal justice and related programs for that same time period was nearly $4 billion (“Keeping New York Safe”).
The Attica program is fully in line with the state’s effort to save money in this area. As stated on New York’s Division of the Budget web site,
New York’s prison population is falling and recidivism rates have improved. The key challenge for our State is to preserve these trends, and to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. We must look carefully at our current use of resources, and whether we can invest them in a more efficient and targeted manner to improve on these results. (“Keeping New York Safe”)
According to the same site, over 28,000 inmates were scheduled to be released back into the general population during the following year. If the goal is to keep these people out of prison, and help them become contributing members of society, then the Attica program is exactly the efficient and targeted use of resources that the state is looking for. The cost benefit to all New Yorkers seems clear.
But does prison education really affect recidivism? The available research shows that it does. An article by James S. Vacca in The Journal of Correctional Education, titled “Educated Prisoners Are Less Likely to Return to Prison,” provides numerous examples of the success of prisoner education. A study done in Oklahoma, for example, showed that “25% of the inmates who received vocational training in prison returned to prison following their release. This was compared to a 77% recidivism rate for the general population.” In Ohio, the rate was 18% for those who were in college programs, compared with 40% for those who were not. And in Canada, “inmates who completed at least two college courses had 50 percent lower recidivism rate than the norm.”
Another article, by Dr. John Garmon, president of Vista Community College in Berkeley, CA, reports on a study by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, which found that “inmates who take college classes while in prison are four times more likely to stay out of trouble when they are released,” and that “7.7 percent of those who took college courses returned to prison, compared to 29.9 percent of those who did not.”
While it’s no surprise that people with a degree are better able to find work, and thus have a better chance of staying out of prison, the low recidivism rates might also reflect a high level of motivation among inmates who seek out education. A New York Department of Correctional Services report, entitled “Follow-Up Study of Offenders Who Earned High School Equivalency Diplomas (GEDs) While Incarcerated in DOCS,” shows some interesting statistics in this regard. Of those who entered and left incarceration with no high school degree, 38% returned within three years; of those who already had such a degree when they were incarcerated, 36.5% returned; and among those who earned a GED while incarcerated, the rate falls to 31.2% (Kim 3). The conclusion of the report states:
The finding of this study is consistent with previous research on correctional education. Among inmates first released from NYS DOCS in 2005 due to parole releases, conditional releases, or maximum expirations of sentence, those who earned a GED while incarcerated returned to custody at a significantly lower rate than offenders who did not earn a GED or those who earned a degree before admission. This finding was consistent across gender and age. (Kim 2)
Another study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and reported in the Journal of Correctional Education, found that “prisoners with a GED scored higher in reading skills than persons in the general population with the equivalent education” (Harlow 1). According to the article, when asked to explain the findings,
78% of faculty responses related to student motivation and commitment…The student responses closely tracked those from the faculty survey with 53% of students reporting. They indicated that differences in performance were due to high levels of motivation and commitment and fewer distractions (33%)… Finally, when asked why they enrolled in college courses, inmates noted career goals (92%), self satisfaction (84%), intellectual stimulation (74%), and post release employment (65%) as the top four reasons for participation, reasons which suggest that the prison students were highly motivated. (Harlow 3)
While teachers are always on the lookout for evidence of motivation among students, and thus may be more likely to fondly remember those who show interest, the inmate responses prove that, in this case, the teachers’ optimism is justified.
These studies also suggest something else. Far from merely offering a diversion from everyday prison life, college courses help correct a glaring deficit in the lives of many of the inmates, a deficit that has led directly to their incarceration—namely, a failed education. A 2010 DOCS study found that 95.7% of inmates aged 16-18 years needed educational programs. Of these, 68.5% were Black, and 77.2% were Hispanic (Kellam 5). Among women of this age group, the number rose to 100% (Kellam 10).
“Budget Request 2007-2008.” The State University of New York, 2007. PDF file. 29 Nov. 2010.
“College Costs.” Genesee Community College. Genesee Community College, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Garmon, John. “Higher education for prisoners will lower rates for taxpayers.” BNET. CBS Interactive, 17 Jan. 2002. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Harlow, Caroline Wolf, et al. “GED holders in prison read better than those in the household population: Why?” BNET. CBS Interactive, March 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
“Keeping New York Safe.” Division of the Budget. New York State, 2007. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Kellam, Leslie. “Targeted Programs: An Analysis of the Impact of Prison Program Participation on Community Success.” State of New York Department of Correctional Services, Sept. 2007. PDF file. 29 Nov. 2010.
Kim, Ryang Hui. “Follow-Up Study of Offenders who Earned High School Equivalency Diplomas (GEDs) While Incarcerated in DOCS.” State of New York Department of Correctional Services, Sept. 2010. PDF file. 29 Nov. 2010.
Steinhauer, Jennifer. “To Cut Costs, States Relax Prison Policies.” The New York Times. 24 March 2009. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Vacca, James S. “Educated Prisoners Are Less Likely to Return to Prison.” BNET. CBS Interactive, Dec. 2004. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Here’s my attempt at subjecting parts of the article to the kind of criticism I give to student papers:
The same argument used against guns is used for pot: that legalizing pot and making it more available will reduce crime(Source?) No good liberal would say the same of guns, though there is substantial evidence to prove more guns equal less crime. (Such as?)
We’re told(Indefinite pronoun. Define “we.” And “told” by whom?) pot users will “responsibly” use marijuana in the privacy of their own homes. (This appears to be a direct quote. What’s your source?) But what barometer are they(Indefinite pronoun. Antecedent has not been identified.) using to determine that persistent recreational drug users, who have presumably broken the law before by possessing marijuana, are responsible people? (Non sequitur.) And why aren’t lawful gun owners afforded the same level of trust?
If progressives want to keep gun control“gun use” in the crosshairs – and many have said they do(Such as?) – they’ll have to reconcile this intellectual incongruity. (False equivalence.)
A successfully-delivered state-run program would send a clear signal that government functions(“can function”) more effectively at the smaller, local level and that federal bureaucracy, whether in drug enforcement or, say, health care, can only(“sometimes”) muck things up. (Logical fallacy. See #1 below…)
1. A single case proves little or nothing, as explained by this example found at the web page, Some Definitions of Science, posted by Dr. Bruce Railsback, from the University of Georgia:
A carpenter, a school teacher, and scientist were traveling by train through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.
“Aha,” said the carpenter with a smile, “I see that Scottish sheep are black.”
“Hmm,” said the school teacher, “You mean that some Scottish sheep are black.”
“No,” said the scientist glumly, “All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black.”
All we know is that there is at least one instance in the U.S. where state drug law has gone against the Federal government. Extrapolating this to all State vs. Federal government issues can lead to controversy. C.f. the history of the Thirteenth Amendment for more information.
One of the arguments made in favor of MOOCs and other forms of online education is that they will “democratize” higher education, offering knowledge to the poor, benighted denizens of the antipodes. (Of course, “knowledge” is to be translated as “America,” but that’s a different story.)
Udacity’s Sebastian Thrum, for example, has said, “So many people can be helped right now. I see this as a mission.” And University of the People calls itself the “world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, degree-granting online academic institution dedicated to opening access to higher education globally for all qualified individuals, despite financial, geographic or societal constraints.”
That’s a lot of adjectives. The implication, of course, is that digital ed. will save higher education from becoming a two-tier system: one level, featuring live instructors and brick-and-mortar institutions for the privileged few, and MOOCs, for the rest of the mooks.
I always knew this was backwards, that MOOCs would only appeal to–and work for–the upper echelon of students, high performers with access to the technology and the experience needed to succeed in that environment. In fact, that’s pretty much what the recent Udacity kerfuffle at San Jose State University suggested.
And now, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education shows the next logical step. Georgia Tech, which offers an online master’s program through Udacity, has figured out a way to avoid San Jose State’s fate:
Georgia Tech’s cautious approach starts with enrolling students who are likely to succeed. One of the variables that sank San Jose State’s initial experiment with Udacity last spring was including at-risk students in the experimental trials. Courses offered to a broader mix of students during the summer, however, had betteroutcomes—possibly because more than half of them already held college degrees.
Georgia Tech’s experiment plays it relatively safe. Because it involves a master’s program, the students will have already earned undergraduate degrees, and many of them already have jobs in the industry. And the students who were admitted have an average undergraduate GPA of 3.58.
It’s not surprising to see the “democratization” mask fall off completely. But here’s a new wrinkle I hadn’t thought of:
The inaugural class is also neither massive nor open. The program has admitted 401 students—360 men, 41 women—out of 2,300 candidates.
The two-tier system is proceeding apace, but now it’s the happy few who will benefit from the well-funded MOOC tsunami, while everyone else—even women, apparently—will have to scramble for seats and pay the costs of traditional institutions.
This must be what they mean by “the flipped classroom.”
“So,” Cowen asks, “why are more Americans moving to Texas than to any other state?” Here’s his answer:
As an economist and a libertarian, I have become convinced that whether they know it or not, these migrants are being pushed (and pulled) by the major economic forces that are reshaping the American economy as a whole: the hollowing out of the middle class, the increased costs of living in the U.S.’s established population centers and the resulting search by many Americans for a radically cheaper way to live and do business.
And, in a rather self-congratulatory article about the article, Ryan Sager of Time has another article called, “Tyler Cowen’s 10 Reasons Texas Is Our Future.” Here’s reason #5:
Cheap land, cheap houses
So where can people go when their incomes aren’t keeping pace with the rising cost of living? We know they’re headed to Texas. And they’re headed there because land is cheap, and thus housing is cheap.
A typical home in Brooklyn costs more than half a million dollars (and rising rapidly), and 85% of these dwellings are apartments and condos rather than stand-alone homes. They don’t usually have impressive sinks and seamlessly operating air-conditioning fixtures. In Houston, the typical home costs $130,100 — and it is likely a stand-alone and newer than the structure in Brooklyn.
Housing is bigger—and cheaper—in Texas.
The unquestioned premise of Cowen’s article, and of Sager’s adoration, is that Americans have the freedom to move about, to advance toward, and retreat from, undesirable economic conditions. Undoubtedly, some do.
But most do not, because they can not. When their incomes aren’t “keeping pace with the rising cost of living,” they’re stuck, especially when they’re living in “established population centers” like Brooklyn.
Here’s a more appropriate title for Cowen’s article:
Why Texas is the Future for Middle Class White Families who are Escaping Northeastern Ghettos to Avoid Taxes.
Somebody’s gotta go back to the city and get a shitload of dimes.