How the political system fails its citizens

There are many posts online explaining what is happening in the crazy world of politics and many of them contain great details. I came across this one on Quora. Its long and it is trying to predict but the best part is the “why things are wrong analysis” which feels spot on. Check out Between Trump and Clinton who will win US presidential election?

The post addresses three main issues:

Trump’s rise stems from three major, interrelated factors.
1. The American political system has failed the majority of its citizens.
2. The American people, or rather large swathes of them, are politically ignorant. It’s important to not take this as an insult although I know many of you will anyway. There is nothing pejorative about the word ignorant. I for example am ignorant of many things- the rules of baseball, how to perform open heart surgery, how to express the likely path of a tornado as a mathematical equation and so on. Not knowing these things does not make me stupid or a bad person, I just never took the time to learn them.
3. The level of sophistry and distraction from real issues has reached such fever-pitch that few now trust anything that is said by media and politicians alike.

My focus of interest was on point 1 how the American political system has developed into the thing it is. Ian Jackson writes in an engaging humorous way and hits most of the main points as to why the system has become the way it has.

Erotic Canoe

This must be one of the best headlines ever This Japanese Artist Was Fined for Distributing Plans to 3-D–Print Replicas of Her Vagina. It gets better when the model Rokude Nashiko is distributing is a kayak.

So it seems like its not illegal in Japan to make a mould of your vagina and turn it into a canoe – it is however illegal to distribute the specs…

On 8 May 2016, the court handed down its decision. She was found not guilty of the charges related to the kayak, on the grounds that the sculpture, with its bright colour and decoration, “did not immediately suggest female anatomy”, in the words of the BBC report. However, she was found guilty of the charges related to the 3D data, and was fined 400 000 yen, about half what the prosecution had suggested was appropriate. Wikipedia

 

Using Memes in Course Evals

Today is the last lecture for this semester so, as tradition dictates, this is when I try to sum up the courses, ask for advice on what to change and try to motivate the students to fill in the course evals.

As part of this motivation I rely heavily on meme’s to get this message across. So these are the actual slides I use when discussing the course evaluation with my students. Beginning with the easily forgotten question:
Slide01

Then its time to go through the material used in the courses. I have a tendency to include a LOT of material aside from the textbooks. I want to see this as providing a wide array of material but I am very wary to listen for the ways in which the amount may just be overwhelming.

Slide02

Slide03

Naturally the gradable parts of the course are of great interest to all involved. I am definitely getting rid of attendance since it really just serves no real purpose. Then I need to think of more interesting classroom exercises and alternative grading events. Interpretive dance anyone?

Slide04

This is followed by a plea for the filling in of course evals. In Sweden course evals never were a big part of my life but here they are such a routinized and integrated part of the system that they need to get done. But they also need to be useful.

Slide05

One of the problems is that most students are taking several courses and are therefore facing several evals for their courses. Lets face it – nobody wants to fill in evals.
Slide06

Which brings us up to what motivates people to fill in evals. Its usually emotional…Slide07 Slide08

This is where I try to remind the students what their role in the course was and what they hoped to get out of it. Slide09

I also point out there is a reason for asking the questions – I want to develop the courses I enjoy teaching in order to make them better. Slide10

But to be able to do this I need to understand what is wrong. Slide11

So they are providing me with a valuable resource from which I can develop…Slide12

But there are more issues with course evals that we all need to be aware of…
Slide13 For one thing they are biased in favor of male professors…Slide14 It also helps to be relatively attractive…Slide15

Which is strange because I am good at my job for other reasons but I am judged on things that have nothing to do with my ability to do my job
Slide16

Oh there is always more…Slide17

My employer loves numbers. This is how they think they can see if they (we) are doing a good job and succeeding.  Slide18

So this is where the students come in… We want them to give their opinions about the course. But do they know what a good course is? Do I? Does anyone? Why did the students take the course? Why did I give the course? Why did the university offer the course? Slide19

From my perspective its not really the numbers that are important. I want/need the free text opinions of my students as this may offer me insights into what I can do. But offering insights requires detail. Saying you loved it doesn’t really help.  Slide20

Nor does saying you hated it…

Slide21

Also some complaints need to be spelled out. No teacher gets fired for giving too much work. Was it good/bad/pointless and in what ways. Slide22

Griping has its place but nobody really cares…Slide23

Its all about perspective.

Slide24

But this is also the last day of class and I am sorry to see them all go. I am looking forward to the upcoming break and to the reading and writing I want to get done.

Slide25

I am less happy about the fact that the long winter has not exactly been kind to me…Slide26

Better insults needed

Sitting on the plane at Boston airport and hoping  it will take off. The delay is because it’s overcast and raining in Philadelphia. This news does not really fit well with Philly’s tough image. 

So I muttered under my breath and realized that none of my insults were things I was comfortable with. All the terms were derogatory to women, gay people, or race. 

Naturally this brought to mind the great quote from Betty White

Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.

But this doesn’t help. I needed an insult to hurl at Philly for not being tough enough to let airplanes land in the rain. And I wanted an insult that didn’t disparage women or gays or that was racist. Betty is awesome, but she wasn’t helping. 

Going back to Shakespeare there were a few tips. From Macbeth:

Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver’d boy.

Lily-liver’d that kind of has a ring to it. It rolls nicely off the tongue, but the hyphenation and apostrophe is going to make it difficult when texting. 

Hamlet offered this:

Thou are pigeon-liver’d and lack gall.

It’s a variation on a theme but I guess even Shakespeare couldn’t be totally original. Same texting problem as before. 

Damn! Where can I find a better source of insults? Any recommendations? 

Privacy in the Past: Woman & Contraception

Kristofer Nelson writes about Privacy, autonomy, and birth control in America, 1860-1900, its a fascinating article on the ways in which gender and privacy have historically played out. This becomes particularly problematic when dealing with birth control. While access to contraception and abortion are still highly discussed today, they are not discussed in this way. What is interesting is the ways in which the private and public domains have been mapped and their borders re-drawn over time. Indeed

Access to birth control became, controversially, protected by the “right to privacy” in 1965;1 a hundred years before, “procreation was a matter of public concern.”2 Yet, contradictorily and confusingly, Victorian women — and their bodies — were protected (and limited) by a powerful social division between private and public spheres.

The rights of woman to her body was viewed in relation to other rights and needs. She was either “property” of her father or husband, or a national commodity as it was the women who would bear the American children. Therefore her use of contraception conflicted with a public interest:

A woman’s body was both a private and a national commodity. If she took steps to control her fertility she entered into the public domain and came into conflict with laws governed by public interest. If she interfered with her husband’s right to her body, she offended him as a man and a potential father.9

The latter quote is from Annegret S. Ogden, The Great American Housewife: From Helpmate to Wage Earner, 1776-1986, Contributions in Women’s Studies, no. 61 (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1986).

 

New Hate Speech & Propaganda Course

Next semester I shall be teaching a course that I find very fascinating and I hope will be very exciting. It’s going to be on Hate Speech & Propaganda (syllabus) and will cover a bunch of interesting areas.

The history of propaganda is fascinating and I would like to have expanded this area to include more but cuts had to be made somewhere. For this section I took inspiration from Jessica Nitschke‘s course “Power, Image, and Propaganda in the Ancient World and Philip Taylor’s book Munitions of the Mind.

There will be a section on the role of superhero’s in propaganda. Not only the ways in which caped crusaders have been used in war but also the ways in which they are used in peacetime to convey ideological messages. For this I recommend Marc DiPaolo‘s book War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film. Naturally there will be a section on the role of wider culture in propaganda and the focus of this may vary depending on what is popular in the media at the time of the course.

Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter

Additionally the course will address the rise of marketing and its connections to propaganda. I wanted to show the fantastic Bernay’s documentary The Century of the Self but at over 4 hours this may have been a stretch for the students. Following this I want to look more closely at the marketing of unhealthy products and lifestyles. In this cigarettes are a given but so is the (minimally) less well know issues of tobacco and sugar. For this section I will be relying heavily on the excellent The Cigarette Century by Allan Brandt.

This will be followed by a look at language and propaganda (naturally Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language will be included) which should hopefully lead the course seamlessly into a discussion on free speech and then look into the areas of hate speech. There is a lot to chose from but the focus this time will be on the Danish Cartoons, Charlie Hebdo & Anti-Immigration. Followed by a look at holocaust denial, homophobia (and related topics) and the limits of hate speech.

The main book will be Jason Stanley‘s How Propaganda Works and I will be adding material to provide other perspectives and to cover hate speech. The syllabus is available and if you do have any comments feel free to contact me or comment.