College of Architecture and Planning Sign Is a Joke

College of Architecture and Planning

This is my own cropped version of an image that has been making its way around the internet. In case you can’t see it, the “C” in the word “College” is pasted on the brick wall to the left. It is clearly meant as a joke and an object lesson for all those “planning” majors. I think it’s quite brilliant.

By all accounts, the building was at Ball State and has since been torn down. But it is hard to know anything for sure. Consider that when this photo was posted on Reddit this January, cjhelms wrote:

The building was constructed in two parts. One completed in 1972 and the newer part completed in 1982. The newer part includes the wall to the left and the older part is the rest that you see. The photo was taken from the basement level. The lettering is above the first level (the windows above the words are of a second floor conference room). There was originally a pedestrian bridge that connected to the entrance below the lettering.

When the newer portion of the building was constructed, the contractor missed his mark and caused the lettering to be cut off. Why didn’t they change it? The space that used to be a beautiful grand entrance to the college was converted into a loading dock.

Part of this may well be true: the left side looks newer. Just the same, none of this would imply that an error was made and I find it very unlikely. Much more likely is that they were making an addition to the building and they knew they had to cover over part of the existing beam. Rather than redo the sign, someone said, “You know what would be funny…?” Cjhelms’ implication that they couldn’t be bothered to fix the sign because it was now just a loading dock doesn’t fly. If that’s the case, why did they go to the trouble of pasting the “C” on the brick wall?

What’s more, I question cjhelms’ seriousness. In another comment, he mentions that it was built by the “lowest bidder,” which is a tired cliche. No one ever gets a contract by being the lowest bidder; they often get them by being the lowest qualified bidder. What’s more, cjhelms claims he knows what went on there because he works at Ball State. But that doesn’t mean he knows anything about the project. And if he wasn’t there when it was built (he recently had a child so he is probably young), all he likely knows is campus folklore.

In contrast, RJMjr60 claimed:

It was done intentionally to prove a point, and to continually reiterate that point to every student who entered the building… The name was a reminder to always think things through and the fact that it made it to Reddit many years after its demise is proof that it got people’s attention and made them think.

Or just consider the human psychology behind the sign. If you ran the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State, and something went wrong on the project for your new building, you would make the best the situation. (For one thing, you would require the contractor to fix the sign!) You would not throw up your hands and say, “It’s an embarrassment, but there is nothing we can do about it!” So whatever the situation with the building, the sign was a choice—a joke that makes a point about the subject being taught.

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John Hiatt

John HiattThe great singer-songwriter John Hiatt is 62 years old today. I first noticed him in my teens. “Pink Bedroom” got a lot of play on our local radio station. He seemed to me like the American equivalent of Elvis Costello. That’s still not an entirely inappropriate comparison. But whereas Costello is more adventurous musically and lyrically, Hiatt is more audience-friendly and doesn’t suffer from Costello’s many excesses.

I don’t have much to say about his life or career. Mostly, he’s written a lot of songs that other people have covered. And he has a substantial following, but he isn’t playing stadiums. He has the kind of career I think most singer-songwriters would like: widely acclaimed by his peers, famous enough for it to be flattering, and rich from all his royalties.

To me, his 1983 album Riding with the King made him a star. For one thing, it is just a great album. But it seemed to me that everyone was playing “You May Already Be a Winner.” But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Here is “She Loves the Jerk”:

In 1992, Hiatt put out the album Little Village with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. I still listen to that album. It’s not great, but it’s a lot of fun. Here they are performing live:

Since that time he has been extremely consistent. Here is the title track from his 2005 album Master of Disaster:

Happy birthday John Hiatt!


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Conservatives Unhappy About History—Insist That Nicer Narratives Be Taught

Larry KriegerMichael Hiltzik brought my attention to a new education outrage, Republicans Throw a Conniption Over the Teaching of US History. Sadly, this one is particularly bad not because of the conservatives—I’m so used to anti-intellectualism on the right that it hardly registers. This one is terrible because of the total spinelessness of one very prominent educator.

The whole thing is about the new history outline for Advanced Placement classes issued by the College Board. It seems that retired teacher and AP test guide author Larry Krieger is unhappy because the outline doesn’t push his own personal view of American greatness. He is upset, for example, that Benjamin Franklin isn’t even mentioned in the outline. Can you imagine?! This is a historical figure that all American children have crammed down their throats from the first grade. What possible reason could the outline have for not mentioning him by name? I mean, other than the fact that students get college credit for AP courses and would be expected to have a pretty good understanding of both the man and his importance in the history of America?

What Krieger is really up to is clear in his reaction to this photograph by Jacob Riis of tenement conditions in New York in 1890:


Hiltzik describes the test question and Krieger’s objection:

One question asked is “Conditions like those shown in the image contributed most directly to which of the following?” The correct answer is, “An increase in Progressive reform activity.”

Kreiger comments, “That’s historically true but note that progressives are going to be the heroes in this narrative.”

There’s your bottom line. In the conservative educational world, historical truth will take you only so far. It’s the ideological narrative they’re concerned with, and if it doesn’t conform to their vision of an America invariably shining the light of freedom and plenty on the world, it must be “biased and inaccurate.”

All of this has led to the Republican National Committee passing a resolution calling the outline “biased and inaccurate” and asking for Congress to defund the College Board. But what is terrible is that the new College Board president, David Coleman, more or less caved as one would expect from the conservative stereotype of a liberal academic:

The board’s president, David Coleman, responded with a pusillanimous open letter praising the critics as “patriots who care deeply about what students learn” and bowing to the “principled confusion the new framework produced.” If he thinks this sort of soft-soaping will mollify the mob, he’s got another thing coming.

Coleman also notes that he joined the College Board “after the new US History framework was developed and released” (emphasis his), which is an odd way of standing up foursquare for years of work by one’s colleagues. He sounds a bit like Gilbert and Sullivan’s Duke of Plaza-Toro, who “when there was any fighting… led his regiment from behind.”

Thankfully, the teachers who actually wrote the outline are fighting back. Their open letter is the kind of sharp attack that is critical if we are not going to allow ever more knowledge to fall into the black hole of “He said—she said—who can possibly say?” reporting that has now engulfed climate science and constantly threatens evolution theory.

We are writing this letter to correct recent uninformed criticisms that have been made in the press about the AP US History Curriculum Framework. We are proud to have participated in this landmark project to improve the teaching of United States History. We hope that this new course will help train a generation of students to understand their nation’s history and to be active citizens who can apply their understanding of the past to their daily lives.

The motivation to redesign AP United States History came first and foremost from AP teachers, who repeatedly expressed frustration with the way they believed the AP US History course prevented them and their students from exploring in any depth the main events and documents of US history. Scholars of teaching and learning in history, and history teachers themselves, felt that the AP course provided too little guidance about what might be on the AP exam, causing them to rush their students in a quick march through a list of historical events. There were too few opportunities to understand the “why” of US history, and or to make its deeper meanings come alive to students…

Many of the comments we have heard about the framework reflect either a misunderstanding of US history or a very limited faith in history teachers’ command of their subject matter. The Curriculum Framework was written by and for AP teachers—individuals who were already experts in US history and its teaching. Based on feedback from other AP teachers outside the Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee, we did not think it necessary to specifically identify Martin Luther King, Jr, among the post-war “civil rights activists” mentioned in the framework. Any United States History course would of course include King as well as other major figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Dwight Eisenhower. These and many other figures of US history did not appear in the previous AP framework, either, yet teachers have always understood the need to teach them. Critics who believe we have omitted them from the course are misunderstanding our document, and we request that they examine the AP Practice Exam as evidence of our determination that AP students must be exposed to a rich and inclusive body of historical knowledge.

American politics is out of balance. On the right we have ideologues who see everything as a threat to their carefully crafted vision of the nation. That might be okay if it were balanced on the left with a bunch of ideologues who see everything as a threat to their carefully crafted vision of the nation. But the right is not so balanced. Instead, it is “balanced” by practical centrism. As a result of that, we run into these problems all the time where basic knowledge gained from science and other disciplines is attacked as bias precisely because it isn’t biased.


It is also possible that Larry Krieger is just using right wing outrage. As I noted above, he is a writer of test preparation material and he seems to own the company Insider Test Prep. So he could see the changes as threatening. On the other hand, nothing is so good for writers of educational materials as changes in standards. It allows used books to become far less valuable, thus increasing sales of new books. So, as Newsweek would tell you, “Who can possibly say?”


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Deported Children Often Killed Within Days

Isaias SosaLike thousands of other undocumented Honduran children deported after having journeyed unaccompanied to the US, Sosa faces perilous conditions in the violent neighborhood from which he sought to escape.

“There are many youngsters who only three days after they’ve been deported are killed, shot by a firearm,” said Hector Hernandez, who runs the morgue in San Pedro Sula. “They return just to die.”

At least five, perhaps as many as 10, of the 42 children slain here since February had been recently deported from the US, Hernandez said…

In one case, a teenage boy was shot to death hours after arriving in San Pedro Sula on a deportation flight, according to the boy’s cousin, who refused to identify himself or the boy to The Times for fear of reprisal from neighborhood gangs.

—Cindy Carcamo
In Honduras, US Deportees Seek to Journey North Again
H/T: Charlie Pierce

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SNL Bans Critical to Shows Problems

Sinead O'ConnorI’m not proud. Last night I saw the link and I clicked, 15 People Who Have Been Banned from SNL. And I learned a few things from the article. The most basic thing is that Saturday Night Live has this ridiculous thing about banning entertainers for life. I don’t know what this is about. It would seem that Lorne Michaels is a megalomaniac who thinks he is doing something more important than producing a banal comedy show. Regardless, many of the reasons for bans are petty.

The best example of this is Elvis Costello’s appearance on the show in 1977. This was right before his first album My Aim Is True was released in the United States. His record company wanted him to perform “Less than Zero.” That was the first single off the album in the UK. But the song is about the British fascist Oswald Mosley—a subject that wasn’t of particular interest to an American audience. Costello wanted to do “Radio Radio.” So on SNL, he started “Less Than Zero,” stopped the band and then did “Radio Radio.”

Why exactly this got Costello banned is not clear. I think there are two aspects of it. One is that Michaels is a corporate lackey. Another is that he hates it when anything happens that wasn’t approved His Mediocreness. The ban stayed in effect for 12 years, but was eventually lifted. According to Wikipedia, Costello was “one of only three people to have their ban from SNL lifted.” To my mind, this is kind of like a bookstore deciding to lift its ban on Stephen King and start selling his books. There are other such cases where SNL is punching much too high: Milton Berle, Frank Zappa, and Martin Lawrence, to name a few.

Another person banned was Sinead O’Connor. In 1992, the young singer-songwriter made a protest against child abuse in the Catholic Church. She ended her a cappella version of “War” by tearing a picture of Pope John Paul II. She was banned, apparently because the only thing worse than the Church covering for pedophilia among priests is talking about it. In retrospect, O’Connor looks like an oracle and SNL looks just like the purveyor of lukewarm inoffensive comedy that they have consistently been for the past four decades.

The whole thing reminds me of Tim Minchin’s foul mouthed, “The Pope Song.”

If you find me more offensive than the possibility
That the Pope protected priests when they were getting fucking fiddly
Then listen to me mother fucker this here is a fact:
You are just as morally misguided as the mother fucking,
nbsp;power hungry, self aggrandizing
nbsp;nbsp;bigot in the stupid fucking hat.

Good comedy requires taking a stand and SNL has pretty much never done that. The original head writer, Michael O’Donoghue originally left the show because the comedy was too staid and safe. He later said of the show, “It’s like watching old men die.”

But I believe the article was wrong about Charles Grodin getting banned. It says:

Before he was a political television commentator, Charles Grodin was a comedian and actor who pissed off more than a few people during his October 29, 1977, hosting gig on <i>Saturday Night Live</i>. Grodin ad-libbed much of his performance, and not well, leading up to an incident during a sketch where Grodin broke character and caused a stir.

I know the episode they are talking about, and it is one of the best ever. Grodin played an amiable buffoon. The idea for the show was that he was totally unprepared because he spent the week sightseeing and buying the cast members presents. For example, in a sketch with The Killer Bees, Grodin supposedly broke character asking if the bees were supposed to be actual bees or men dressed up as bees. Another part of the show was that John Belushi was really angry with Grodin for his lack of professionalism. Now, there could have been something behind this. But Grodin did exactly the same character when on The Tonight Show.

Regardless, before I read the article, I had a low opinion of the show. Now that opinion has slipped even lower. Saturday Night Live is truly the Sinbad of sketch comedy. Sinbad, of course, being the amusing but totally inoffensive comedian who has never been banned from SNL.

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Can We Acknowledge Our Shared Humanity?

Palestinian Father with Dead Child

This image was posted on Google+ last night by Forever Palestine. I have no context for it. I assume it is a father kissing his dead daughter before he buries her. It is a heartbreaking image.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m highly sympathetic toward the Palestinians. But I don’t particularly take sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is a mess. I think lowly of the belligerents on both sides. But it is the Palestinians who are dying in such large numbers. And I don’t think that takes away from what Israeli civilians are going through. The random rocket fire does create terror, and for the people harmed or killed, it doesn’t matter what the numbers are.

But this image reminds me of Benjamin Netanyahu’s comment on CNN that Hamas “use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.” Undoubtedly, the corpses do have a PR value. But the statement is entirely typical of war propaganda: dehumanize the enemy. I think you can say that Hamas’ actions are shortsighted. (You can say the same thing about Israel’s actions.) But you can’t say that Hamas doesn’t love its children.

Another problem is that Americans tend to make assumptions about Hamas that are not valid. While the group does use terrorism as a tactic, the group is a lot more than that. Treating the group as a monolith is a mistake. Another false assumption is to equate Hamas with the people of Gaza. And blanket statements like Netanyahu’s only reinforce these false assumptions, which is probably why they are made.

Would it be so hard for us all to agree that all the peoples of the world value life? Or at least that we all love our children? This seems the very least we can do. But the dehumanization of the enemy is very important in allowing the killing to continue. And I don’t expect either side to acknowledge the humanity of the other any time soon. Meanwhile, the anguished man in the photograph is real. The child is dead. And regardless of PR or ideology or property right, this is wrong.


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Ogden Nash

Ogden NashOn this day in 1902, the great poet Ogden Nash was born. In general, poetry is hard on readers. It takes greater concentration than we are used to giving. But Nash found an audience quickly because he was so clever and funny. His poems often included made up word puns and unusual pronunciations. He also worked as a librettist for a couple of Broadway musicals.

His father had an import-export business, so the family moved around a lot. He was born in New York, but chose to live almost his whole adult life in Baltimore. Of this fact, he wrote, “I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more.” Other that this clever line, I can’t really understand choosing to live in Baltimore. But I guess that was just one of the things that made Nash special.

Here is Nash’s response to Dorothy Parker’s, “Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses.” He wrote:

A girl who is bespectacled
She may not get her nectacled
But safety pins and bassinets
Await the girl who fassinets.

And here is his poem (part of a series about animals), “The Panther”:

The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn’t been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don’t anther.

It’s all very playful and fun stuff—well worth spending some time with. And here is one of his songs, “Speak Low” with music by Kurt Weill:

Happy birthday Ogden Nash!

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Police Selective Leaks After Shooting Very Familiar

Michael BrownI’ve avoided talking too much about the murder of Michael Brown, because there really isn’t much to say. It is very much like school shootings: these are avoidable tragedies, but the power elite aren’t interested in doing anything about them. I did write an article about it last week, Michael Brown Murder Uncovers Deeply Flawed Local Policing. In that article, I compared Michael Brown to Andy Lopez, a young man in my home town who was killed by an officer who mistook his toy gun for a real one.

In the article, I noted that the officer shot Lopez seven times in six seconds. When the shooting was investigated, the authorities found that the officer acted appropriately. But here’s the key, “And if you check the internet about the killing, most of what you will see is that Lopez was high on cannabis, as though that has anything to do with the situation.”

So I was not surprised when I read in the Washington Post, County Investigation: Michael Brown Was Shot From the Front, Had Marijuana in His System. This has no obvious relevance to the shooting. Just like the release of video from a convenience store robbery, it is being used to tarnish Brown’s reputation—to throw doubt into the public discussion.

Note how callous this is. The unstated message is that Michael Brown was a bad kid (or might have been) and therefore it was justified to kill him. And for a large swath of America, their only real experience with cannabis is government propaganda that is one step up from Reefer Madness. For them, someone under the influence of the drug could have done anything. It’s like all those old scare stories about PCP. So suddenly Michael Brown was some wild man who could have broken out of handcuffs.

To make matters worse, the man who did the autopsy for Brown’s parents, Michael Baden was on Fox News speculating about the toxicology report that he hadn’t seen. The whole thing is very much the way that Fox News wants to push this. Greta Van Susteren asked, “Does the fact that they found marijuana, does that exclude the fact that there might be other drugs in his system or even that the marijuana was laced with anything?” We don’t even know that the cannabis levels indicate that he was high. It is possible that the drugs are from days or even weeks before.

This is all so predictable. It’s like they teach this in police training, “After you needlessly kill a young man, do everything you can to vilify him, even if you have to make stuff up. Then wait a few months, release a report that exonerates the officer. And hold a press conference about starting a dialog and the need for healing.” It is sickening in its premeditation. It is boring in its familiarity.

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Why Republicans Will Nominate Rand Paul in 2016

Martin LongmanOver the weekend, Martin Longman (AKA: the handcuffed frog blogger) made an interesting observation, Why Presidential Horserace Pieces are Boring. I think what he really meant is that horse race pieces are stupid. And his reasoning is interesting: regardless of who the Republicans nominate, they will lose. I don’t agree with that logic. I’m a fundamentals kind of guy, and I think that as bad a candidate as Newt Gingrich could be elected president in 2016 if the economy crumbles in the months leading up to the election.

But I’m in agreement with Longman: I’m not very interested in presidential horse race articles. And that’s why I’m going to write one. Because I think I know who the Republicans are going to nominate for president in 2016: Rand Paul. But don’t worry, I haven’t lost all sense. I certainly don’t think that he will get the nomination because the Republicans have turned libertarian. Instead, he will get the nomination because he claims to be a libertarian without actually acting like it.

Rand PaulA big part of this is the fascination that Republicans have for the libertarian brand. And everyone knows that Rand Paul is a libertarian—whatever that might mean. When I was a libertarian, I hated what I saw as pretenders like Rand Paul. As it was, I didn’t vote for his father when he ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket, and his father is a hell of a lot closer to an actual libertarian than Rand is. His reputation is based on his isolationist foreign policy ideas, lukewarm support of LGBT rights, and his kinda sorta support of cannabis legalization.

The problem for Rand Paul is that the things that make him the new poster boy of libertarianism are things that the base of the Republican Party hate. But this is a minor problem for Paul. As each day goes by, we find him pushing himself further and further away from any libertarian positions into a nice comfortable conservative place. So by this time next year, he will have massaged every position so that it still sounds libertarian, while still being full of conservative red meat for the base.

For the Republican voter, Rand Paul will be the ultimate candidate. He will have the official George Washington seal of approval without having to take on any of the actual ideas of the first president or any of the other founders of the nation. This is what the Tea Party is all about and they will vote for Rand Paul as long as he doesn’t keep saying things that upset their sense of American exceptionalism. It will be the perfect: conservative elitism in the clothes of libertarian idealism.

A lot of people seem to think that Paul will have problems with things he’s said in the past. But as we’ve seen over and over, Paul has no problem just ignoring the past or claiming that he misspoke in the past. All politicians try to do that, of course. But the Republican base seems awfully forgiving about this. Just look at the transformation that Mitt Romney went through. The problem with Rand Paul’s father was always that he was too wedded to his ideology. The son learned not to do that from his father’s failure to inspire the Republican Party. So Rand Paul very clearly doesn’t believe in anything other than that he ought to be president. And I think that will see him through to the nomination.

Let us hope to God that he doesn’t win the general election.



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Politics in Historical Context

Tea PartyJonathan Chait wrote an article today with a really interesting title, No, the Founders Were Not Tea Partiers. And then he went on to write a totally different article. What he’s actually writing about is how the anti-democratic structure of the Senate was not something that the framers wanted; it was something that they had to accept to pacify the smaller states who thought that the big states would walk all over them. As Alexander Hamilton said in the debate over the new Constitution, “But as States are a collection of individual men which ought we to respect most, the rights of the people composing them, or of the artificial beings resulting from the composition.”

In a general sense, Chait is pushing against the conservative idea that the country was meant to held in check by a small percentage of the population is little states who effectively have a veto on any legislation that they don’t like. He also makes the point that the fact that people like Hamilton and Madison were willing to compromise to get the Constitution ratified show how they aren’t like the all-or-nothing Republican base. This is all very true, but I think there is a more fundamental issue here.

People have a tendency to see people from the past in a modern context. But that makes no sense at all. The Magna Carta is bizarre to the modern reader. Pointing out that the king is not above the law when it come to feudal lords seems self-evident. But in 1215, it was the most liberal of documents. Similarly, in the minds of modern conservatives, the founding fathers are sealed in Amber. It is only in this way that they can claim Hamilton and Madison as their own.

But the historical context of our country’s founding was the effort to expand equality. These men where thus liberals. And by that I don’t mean “classical liberals” in the sense that libertarians like to use it. Most of them were that, but it gives the wrong impression. The important point is that “classical liberalism” was a reaction against hereditary rule. And that makes it liberal as we think of it today.

In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin argues that what makes a conservative—regardless of time—is their opposition to the expansion of equality. So conservatives were at best apologists for slavery. Conservatives were at best for stealing native lands, if not for full scale genocide. Conservatives were at best hostile to allowing women the right to vote. And the most notable things about modern conservatism are: easing the taxation of the rich, limiting reproductive freedom of women, and not allowing the LGBT community rights to marriage or even to jobs in some extreme cases.

So it is always galling to me to hear conservatives grab onto the founding fathers as though they are part of the same historical movement. When it latches onto the mantle of the country’s founding, modern conservatism is just trying to brush away over two centuries of progress. But the Constitution itself shows the lie of this. The preamble says “in order to form a more perfect union,” not “in order to form a perfect union.” Those men did not expect the country to ossify. It was conservatives then and now who want to stop the powerless from gaining more power: from George III to Ted Cruz. The founding fathers were liberals, and the state of the art in modern conservatism is 227 year old liberalism.

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