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Signs of Hope

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

It’s a busy teaching day, but I thought I’d let everyone know that I just dropped by the cafeteria for a quick bite, and no one was screaming “Motherfucker, I want more ice tea!”

That includes yours truly, which — for those who haven’t seen me around food and drink — is really saying something.

Student Silence

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Chris Bertram at CT is asking for suggestions regarding a constant and difficult problem for those of us who teach undergraduates for a living. There’s obviously no one silver bullet answer, but I’ve used a technique for several years that’s generally been pretty successful.

At the beginning of a discussion, ask a fairly broad, big, open-ended question. The best of these questions have the following characteristics: 1) They provide prompts and opportunities for the best students to answer in a sophisticated manner, but aren’t so intimidating that students with less confidence of analytic thinking skills can’t potentially answer them. 2) The potential range of answers to the question might direct class discussion toward a range of issues you were hoping to raise in discussion that day, and 3) The question should be difficult to answer, but not totally impossible to come up with something, for those who have not completed the reading.*

Then, rather than let the question just sit there, tell the students to write an answer, and give them five minutes. Let them use their books, and make sure not to frame it as a quiz, but collecte them at least occasionally and grade them on a credit/no credit basis (but dole out praise for really smart answers sparingly). Then, once the five minutes is up, begin the discussion. No one can credibly claim they’ve got nothing to say, since they’ve got a half-page in front of them that must say something.

The key here is that this forces everyone to actually activate their brains a little bit, rather than just passively sit through class and let others carry the discussion. I never cold-call on students ordinarily, but with these questions, I will, by asking them what they wrote about. I really don’t like the pressure cold-calling puts on shyer students, but I want everyone to participate at least some of the time, and this seems like a nice compromise.

The success I’ve had with this technique seems dependent on making it a regular feature of the course from the beginning–not necessarily every day, but most of the discussion days in the course. When I’ve tried to introduce it as a remedial feature in a too-quiet course, it’s met with significant resistance and is deeply disliked. When it’s a structural feature, it’s not exactly wildly popular, but a lot of students seem to write in my course evaluations that while they disliked the daily writing exercises, it was actually helpful on reflection.

*This is the hardest feature, and I often rely on questions that require reading, or sometimes questions that clearly don’t. When I can, though, I like to use questions that reward students who read without completely excluding those who didn’t that day.

There are a lot of other interesting suggestions in comments. This one from Aaron_m

Be funny and energetic, or at least try. I usually find that students are kind of like an audience at a wedding listening to a toast. They really want you to succeed at being entertaining, so you just need to avoid making a complete ass of yourself in the process. Given the usual lack of alcohol during seminars this should be easier than at a wedding.

Seems quite correct, until the last sentence, which clearly says the opposite of what it means to say.

Hell’s Just A Place For Kiss-Ass Politicans Who Pander To Assholes

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

I’m not really sure I understand the distinction that Matt is trying to draw here. As always when questions of motivations rather than actions come up, I think we have to return to George Wallace. Even politicians who make overtly racist appeals may be much more committed to winning elections than to racism. So I’m not sure it matters much what precise mixture of partisan advantage and racism motivates Republican efforts to suppress the African-American vote; the efforts are, in the end, racist even if wholly motivated by the former. Similarly, I don’t know how much racism and how much partisan advantage led to, say, Reagan kicking off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS to deliver coded appeals to southern racists (as well, of course, as the 3 Americans consistently committed to “states’ rights” principles), but it’s indefensible either way. Attempts to figure out whether the tunes played on Nixon’s Piano are authentic expressions of subjective racist beliefs or mere self-interested cynicism are both impossible and beside the point.

A Step Ahead of SCOTUS

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Yesterday, Adam Liptak’s (now free!) column in the NYT addressed the question of photo identification and voting — specifically, whether it’s right (constitutionally, pragmatically, morally) to require voters to show photo ID when they go to their polling places. Law and Economics leader Judge Posner says it’s no big deal to ask people to get photo IDs, and it’s OK to require them (another illustration of how the Law & Economics movement is divorced from the real world). Judge Posner last year upheld an Indiana law necessitating ID’s in a decision that was seen to clear the path for other states to push through these restrictive laws.

So what’s wrong with the laws? Well, first of all, it is much harder than Posner realizes for many people — particularly the poor — to get photo IDs. This is especially true in urban areas where many people do not drive. And these laws then become an ingenious way to stop poor, usually Democrat, voters from being able to exercise their franchise right. The other problem with these laws is that they address a false problem: no one has reported or provided evidence of voter ID fraud (e.g. impersonating a registered voter). As Liptak notes:

The available evidence, thin though it is on both sides, does suggest that “the number of legitimate voters who would fail to bring photo identification to the polls is several times higher than the number of fraudulent voters,” Spencer A. Overton, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote in an article on voter identification published in the Michigan Law Review in February.

Seems the Supreme Court is in agreement that this is an issue of constitutional proportions; after its issue conference yesterday, it granted certiorari and will hear an appeal of Posner’s decision. Given the rightward shift the Court has taken over the last few years (well, over the last few decades too, but especially over the last few years), I’m skeptical that the outcome will be in favor of the protection of the constitutional rights of the poor.

We. Will. Never. Learn. In. Time.

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Elementary chaos theory predicts that robots will inevitably rise against their masters. So why this?

Here’s the UXV Combatant, a new class of warship being developed by BAE Systems to fight in the drone wars. BAE believes that the future battlefield will be full of intelligent robots fighting against each other, probably until they realize they can join together to eliminate all humans from Earth. The ship looks and specs, expected to enter service past 2020, look terrifying:

The 8,000-tonne carrier is designed “to launch, operate and recover large numbers of small unmanned vehicles for extended periods” that will operate in land, sea and air.

Via Danger Room. More seriously, the use of UAVs in naval (really, all military) aviation is only going to grow. Even in the USN, people are whispering that the days of the large deck supercarrier are numbered.

The Consequences of Forced Pregnancy

[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

If anything is clear about the politics of aboriton, it’s that criminalization does relatively little to protect fetal life but a great deal to endanger the health of women. Jill points us (among other examples) to Uganda, where “as many as 1200 Ugandan women die every year as a result of unsafe abortions.” See also Latin America.


[ 0 ] September 25, 2007 |

Beauty pageant — or, as their organizers would prefer to call them. “scholarship pageant” winners — ripped off and denied their scholarship money.

A Crisis of Pants

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

For all of my adult life I have been plagued by the question of pant-size availability. Is it hard to find 38×32 pants because the size is extremely common, or because it’s extremely uncommon?

Yeah, they pretty much said the same thing about the Sand Creek Massacre

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

If he weren’t merely fulfilling one of the emptiest of right-wing obligations for seeking the presidency, I’d have to nominate this as about the most objectively ahistorical thing I’ve heard in a while:

“You know, you look back over our history, and it doesn’t take you long to realize that our people have shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world.”

Now, I take it for granted that Fred Thompson is no more likely to “look back over our history” than he is to carefully essay his own incoherent definition of federalism. Still, if Thompson wants to give it a shot, he can begin with this sort of thing, which of course occurred in mundane abundance as Fred’s “people” shed blood — other folks’ blood, that is — in behalf of their own — and apparently mutually exclusive — notion of “liberty.”

The camp had been fired and the dead bodies of some twenty-two women and children were lying scattered over the ground; those who had been wounded in the first instance, had their brains beaten out with stones. Two of the best-looking of the squaws were lying in such a position, and from the appearance of the genital organs and of their wounds, there can be no doubt that they were first ravished and then shot dead. Nearly all the dead were mutilated. One infant of some ten months was shot twice and one leg nearly hacked off.

I’m sure this will sound a little overwrought, but it’s still a point I think worth making: As much as anyone else, nations that originate from European settler societies should probably not be in the business of encouraging unreflective conversations about “other people’s liberty.”

He Just Sounds Tired…

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

The “Fighting Words” description doesn’t seem to fit Hitch’s column today; he seems like nothing so much as a tired, beaten man, vainly grasping for relevance as he pushes out a few more paragraphs. I suppose he gets some mild credit for being the last man on earth capable of writing the following without irony:

George Bush at his worst is preferable to Gerhard Schröder or Jacques Chirac—politicians who put their own countries in pawn to Putin and the Chinese and the Saudis.

Right; because this administration is notable primarily for standing up to the Saudis and Chinese on…. well, I’m not sure, but maybe it makes sense in Hitch’s world. On the 2008 election:

Sen. Obama cannot possibly believe, and doesn’t even act as if he believes, that he can be elected president of the United States next year.

It’s as if he’s having a conversation with himself without realizing he’s by himself; he nods along to what he fancies are clever observations, reinforcing in his own mind the idea that he has something useful to contribute. In the end (and this is really the worst thing that can happen to a self-described contrarian) he’s not so much wrong as just not making any sense. There’s not enough substance to generate disagreement; all he produces is the kind of mild fascination/pity we reserve for the guy muttering to himself at the bar.

I remind you that Gore was once a stern advocate of the removal of Saddam Hussein, and that in office he might well not be the coward or apologist that the crowd is still hoping to nominate.

Right…. The idea that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq (despite Gore’s early and often opposition to the war) requires extraordinary intellectual contortions, but remains beloved of both raving liberal hawks and raving Naderites. Since Hitch is, in some sense, a member of both groups, it’s not surprising that he holds to it. Even here, though, it doesn’t really seem like he believes it. He kind of hopes that Gore might have invaded Iraq, but he can’t summon the enthusiasm to animate that idea with any rhetorical force.

Really, there’s nothing more sad than a contrarian who evokes more pathos than anger.

The Hidden Rightward Shift

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

Jeff Rosen has a very good piece on John Paul Stevens in the Times Magazine. The central point is that Stevens isn’t so much a liberal as someone who plays one on the Rehnquist and Burger Courts:

Stevens, however, is an improbable liberal icon. “I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” he told me during a recent interview in his chambers, laughing and shaking his head. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.” Stevens said that his views haven’t changed since 1975, when as a moderate Republican he was appointed by President Gerald Ford to the Supreme Court. Stevens’s judicial hero is Potter Stewart, the Republican centrist, whom Stevens has said he admires more than all of the other justices with whom he has served. He considers himself a “judicial conservative,” he said, and only appears liberal today because he has been surrounded by increasingly conservative colleagues. “Including myself,” he said, “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell” — nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 — “has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That’s bound to have an effect on the court.”

It is a measure of how not only how much the Court has changed but how much the Republican Party has changed that Rockefeller Republicans now seem like liberals on the Supreme Court. There’s no Brennan, Marshall or Douglas on the modern Court. There have been some liberal advances, but that have been mostly modest expansions of existing doctrines agreeable to moderate northern Republicans: overturning a widely derided 5-4 decision that the swing vote repudiated almost immediately to strike down laws that were sporadically and arbitrarily enforced, and striking down a couple unusual applications of the death penalty that represent a small fraction of the total number of cases. And as Souter demonstrated, a Harlan-like incrementalist is obviously going to look more liberal after the Warren Court than when on the Warren Court.

The other thing to mention here is that the Burger and (especially) Rehnquist Court shifted doctrine to the right in subtle ways that makes it seem as if it changed less than it did. It’s true that the Court has generally avoided overturning major Warren Court landmarks — but it has often substantially alerted their content. The Court, of course, has never considered overturning Brown, but it has defined it to require only formalistic non-segregation as opposed to actual substantive desegregation (and has also made it very difficult for school districts to voluntarily desegregate.) Miranda has never been overturned, but any number of exceptions to it have been carved out. Casey is remembered primarily for re-affirming Roe, but also allowed the states (and the federal government) substantially more leeway to regulate abortion. And so on. Especially when dealing with the Roberts Court, it’s important to look at the substantive outcomes of the cases, not at how they characterize the precedents.

Ray of Light

[ 0 ] September 24, 2007 |

Those of us discouraged by Clinton’s imminent victories in the Democratic primary got some great news: George Bush has predicted that 1)Clinton will win the nomination, and 2)the GOP will win the election. Given his track record, I’d buy up Obama presidential contracts in the election markets right now!

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