Sunday, October 1, 2017

Demonstrating what free speech is all about

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 1 October 2017

I'm an unapologetic defender of free speech. However, free speech doesn't mean free pass. Colin Kaepernick is today's example of one using their platform to speak out on a controversial topic and to challenge the status quo and be harshly punished for it. He's unemployed in an industry that is desperate for his skills. He’d be better off had his offense been to beat up his girlfriend or to abuse his kid (those talented players are still employed and will play). Instead, Kaepernick broke no laws, indeed he acted within a constitutionally protected area, like those who wish to brandish a firearm. Except, those protections only protect you from the government, not your private sector employer.
And I agree with all of it. I think it's unfortunate that Kaepernick is not playing. But that's the system. Thankfully, our Supreme Court has upheld protections against flag burning when government has tried to criminalize it. I hope it never tries to criminalize a private actor from responding to public speech, whether it be with more speech or a firing.
President Trump is probably not breaking laws by encouraging NFL owners to fire those who decline the ritual of standing during the national anthem but it's a mistake similar to what President Obama did with criticizing the police in the Henry Louis Gates incident. I think Obama realized it and offered the beer summit for those officers to discuss it along with Gates. It was six months into his term and it was an admission of a mistake. Perhaps President Trump will do something similar.
Free speech is threatened. Not by bullies like Trump or corporate entities who fire folks who say controversial things that employers disagree with (Google, NFL, various media outlets) but from within. A Brookings study surveyed college students and their views and understandings of free speech. The findings are "concerning." I find myself more in agreement with conservative than liberal students. I'd urge my colleagues to read the results of this paper and think hard about what they convey to their students. Silencing racists, misogynists and heterosexists will not win the rhetorical, symbolic or political debates. I find too many students able to recite but not reason.
Disagreement is not the same as offending. But that distinction seems to be dissolving and it has a corrosive effect on speech. Disagreeing is how we strengthen our arguments. We must read and understand what the "other side" says in order to craft our arguments. Not shout it down or pass administrative rules to silence it. Our public universities should be raucous and not for the faint of heart. It should be about challenging everyone. Private colleges are the enclaves of "like me," not public universities because "we" are for all including atheists and fundamentalists, racists and anti-racists, the misogynist and feminist, capitalist and socialist. If our students think disagreeing is offending then we have a silent campus. And that should outrage the faculty.
Richard Spencer, a prominent leader and spokesperson for the alt-right wanted to speak at my alma mater, the University of Florida. As a student there in the '70s it was a cauldron of free speech and an important part of my education. UF turned Spencer down. I wrote as an alum that UF should welcome his controversy as an opportunity. UF changed course in face of a threatened lawsuit but has a lot of lawyerly language to no doubt create "outs" for them as they negotiate with Spencer.
Another alma mater, Virginia Tech, is in the news for what the basketball coach did with his team who failed to follow the required robotic response to the national anthem. When did the Star Spangled Banner become only about vets and the serving military? In any case they serve so people can stand or sit during the national anthem. But Coach Williams used more speech to try to convince his players to do what he wanted. That’s better than a threat like President Trump is urging. President Trump is no defender of free speech.
I'm sure Richard Spencer has a search engine that identifies every time his name appears on the internet. I disagree with all that you say and stand for. But I'll defend your right to say it to the end. ISU has a banquet facility for hire, rent it and speak here. You'll find many in the community sympathetic to your beliefs. And I think ISU needs to demonstrate what free speech is all about.
Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email thomas.steiger@indstate.edu.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

White supremacy a scourge to take seriously

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 3 September 2017

The events two weeks ago in Charlottesville and the glee with which openly white supremacist leaders spoke of President Trump’s response really bothered me. It took me about a week to figure out why. I traced it back to ninth grade.
As I entered the seventh grade, Florida schools desegregated under federal court orders. Needless to say, the officials in charge didn’t do a very good job; it seemed they did it in such a way to foment a stiff and at times violent reaction to it. Then Governor Claude Kirk was an ardent foe of “busing.” That was 1970. For me, my junior high (seventh, eighth and ninth grade) was desegregated and my parents sent me to a “white flight” Christian school. That should tell you about my parents’ racial views.
The next year I returned to public school because my parents were OK with how school officials were achieving “busing” (basically that I would not be bused to a “black” school).
My future high school was just a few blocks away from the junior high and it was the site of considerable racial violence. It even made the CBS Evening News and often the trouble “walked down the street” to my school and we had our share of racial violence as well. One morning, in November, we arrived on school grounds and someone (I doubt anyone from the school, although a parent might have been a culprit) had painted a racial epithet on the basketball court. We did not have an inside gym, so this racial epithet in six foot letters in the very center of the school, was so inflammatory (I doubt the Trib-Star would print it) it created immediate tension and strong reactions.
I was on the yearbook staff and we met an hour before classes started. That day, I was in Mrs. Smith’s room doing yearbook stuff when I saw another yearbook staff person, my friend Carl, walking in from the bike racks and a black kid (African-American was not yet used) ran up behind him and hit him in the back of the head with a baseball bat. I saw him go down and I ran out of the room and around an exterior stairway to see if he was okay. He was. He said he sensed something behind him and scrunched up his shoulders and the bat hit him there. His books were scattered and I told him to get inside and I grabbed his books. Then I was surrounded by eight black guys, most of whom I recognized and a few others who were older, high school boys. One had a bat, another a chain. They pushed me back and forth like a scene from West Side Story, the bat was swung at my head but I ducked and the chain was swung at me and caught me on the side. I broke through the group and ran away to the safety of Mrs. Smith’s room.
The “gang” then walked down the length of the building to an interior stairway and assaulted another kid. He was not as fortunate as I was. He was lashed several times in the face with the chain and his eyes were permanently damaged. This attack created, not surprisingly, an uproar and the eight boys were caught. The issue for the police was who swung the chain. The captured boys named the chain swinger, a kid named Johnnie. Johnnie was known by many other black kids as an “oreo.” In fact, Johnnie, Mike, and I were friends and played gym towel basketball everyday instead of eating lunch.
Johnnie was charged and had a juvenile court hearing. His attorneys (no kidding, I think they were just law students from the local law school) heard that I was assaulted just minutes before Rusty was. They came to see me. No police or prosecutor ever spoke to me. They asked if Johnnie was in the group that assaulted me. “No.” Do you know who swung the chain at you? “Yes.” So, during the trial, I was brought in to “impeach” a couple of the witnesses.
That I was going to testify in open court in defense of a “n****r” became an issue for me and my parents. To my parents’ credit, despite they themselves being white supremacists, told me to just tell the truth. I knew then it was hard on them, but I hope the “always tell the truth” that they drummed into me, somehow gave them some satisfaction.
The day I testified was ugly. There were protesters but after the trial was dismissed for that day, the parents of the boys I had contradicted got in my face, they screamed at me, they threatened me. Somehow I understood that, I had just called their boys liars. I was scared but that compared nothing to the response from the white supremacy crowd. They didn’t care about the truth. They only wanted to see a black kid be punished. It didn’t matter who it was, as “they” are all the same. For me, this was the crack that I needed to see my own way out of that world.
Our house was vandalized with “race traitor” sprayed on our driveway. My life was threatened multiple times by angry white folks, most of whom I knew and knew through my dad were KKK. One day, my folks were out, I was to cut the grass and was getting the mower ready to do that when a car pulled up, full of angry white guys, none of whom I recognized, they told me that they were going to “f**k me up” and two got out of their car, one with a bat and the other with a piece of wood with a nail protruding from it. I was frightened and I reached for a huge wrench my dad had and turned and just waited for these two guys. I said nothing because I was petrified and felt like I was going to puke. Then they stopped, turned around, got back in the car and drove off. I don’t know why, they were at the right place and had called me by name.
I’ve faced racial violence and I’ve faced angry white supremacists. The white supremacists scared me (and still do) far more than any angry BLM protest or Louis Farrakhan fulminations. I’ve received death threats twice in my life. Then and later after first moving to Terre Haute and encountering the Klan at the Covered Bridge Festival and writing a letter to the editor of the Trib-Star about it. After it was published I received death threats over the phone. My earlier experience though taught me the real danger isn’t the threat, but when out of the blue a car full of angry white supremacists shows up, unexpectedly.
For those white folks who have liberal views on race, immigration, diversity, and so forth, do not take this rise in white supremacy activity lightly. You are all “race traitors” and a race traitor to them is the worst thing one can be.
Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email thomas.steiger@indstate.edu.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A strange attitude concerning press censorship

I’ve been storing a truckload of my deceased parents’ stuff. This summer, after several moves and even more years, I decided to go through it and make the hard decisions about getting rid of (at least) some of it.
In one box was a clear plastic bag with newspapers in it. Tribune-Stars, haphazardly folded, but with a similarity; they were the D section of the Sunday Trib containing my essays. My mother was saving my essays. I’d discovered a treasure trove. Until 2007ish I didn’t save my Tribune-Star essays, so these have been termed “Mom’s archive” and I’ve been digitizing them and (re)publishing them on my personal blog.
Some of these previous essays beg for updating and that is what I am doing today, updating an essay published on Feb. 6, 2005, titled “A reaction laced with hypocrisy.” The essay was about a survey published by the Knight Foundation on the attitudes of high school students toward the First Amendment. Knight has recently published another survey and given the tensions surrounding the press, its role, journalists’ rights and “fake news” it seemed ready-made for an update.
Some of the high points of the survey findings from 2006 were that 70 percent of the surveyed high school students believed that newspapers should seek government approval before running their stories and that only a bit more than a third disagreed that the First Amendment went too far in the rights it guarantees. Those students would be today in their middle to late twenties and voting.
I wrote that this finding was a reason for concern. The Knight Foundation cited a lack of resources and extra-curricular opportunities to learn about the First Amendment such as school newspapers. I pointed to broader changes in schools and likened them to prisons as the lives of students were becoming increasingly regulated leaving less room for student agency.
The hypocrisy referred to in the title had to do with this finding: Fifty-eight percent of students agreed that high schools should be allowed to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without approval of school authorities. But only 39 percent of teachers did and less than a quarter of principals did.
In 2016, 56 percent of students disagreed that the First Amendment went too far in the rights it guarantees. For the teachers, it was 75 percent who disagreed with that statement. As to newspapers seeking government approval before running their stories, 61 percent of students and 73 percent of teachers agreed. Seems contradictory.
Ninety-one percent of students agreed that “people should be able to express unpopular opinions.” And those who more frequently consume news and actively engage with news through social media demonstrate stronger support for First Amendment freedoms. Unfortunately, the report does not include data on how many students regularly consumed and engaged with news sources. Based on my experience with my students, I would guess the proportion to be small. Of those who said they engaged “often” the smartphone was their overwhelming source for their news.
The study asked students and teachers about online news providers’ right to publish stories without government censorship. Seventy-three percent of teachers and 60 percent of students were supportive of that right, echoing somewhat the proportions responding to whether newspapers should seek government approval before running their stories. To me, this is concerning, especially now that the President of the United States is attempting to discredit the press.
Is there a difference in levels of trust for different media between students and their teachers? The highest trust for both students (83 percent) and teachers (91 percent) is news printed in newspapers. The trust placed on the information in newspapers was similar to information from friends and family. The lowest trust for both students (49 percent) and teachers (34 percent) was in social media. This was also the biggest gap between students and teachers.
The hypocrisy remains, however. Sixty-three percent of students believe high school students should be able to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities. Only 37 percent of teachers agreed. Those numbers haven’t changed much since 2006.
In an age of high levels of distrust in government, to suggest censorship is an answer to an overreach of press freedom or for it to monitor “offensive” content seems strange. Three-quarters of teachers and almost 60 percent of students unquestioningly support the First Amendment. Why not look to the “market” as the answer? Don’t like a source, don’t read it.
Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email: thomas.steiger@indstate.edu.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Letting the authoritarians lead the way

Previously published in the 2 July 2017 Terre Haute Tribune Star.

Today, the senior demon Authoritarian is meeting with President Trump. 

“Welcome, welcome, my friend, President Trump.  Congratulations on your astounding victory last November and most recently achieving your travel ban.”

“Thank you, Authoritarian.  America has lost its way.  I will turn her back on the right road and make her great again.”

Authoritarian chuckles and waves to his nephew, Pootie Poot. “Join us Pootie.”

“Good evening Uncle and it’s very good to see you again Donald.  It has been too long.”

“Pootie Poot? “

“Just a term of endearment an uncle has for his nephew, Donald.  May I also congratulate you on your recent triumph over CNN.  The press is a great threat to your total authority.  I understand your frustration.  If I may, continue to wage war against the press.  The American people don’t care and it helps to solidify devotion among your supporters.”

“The press should not be questioning, they should be reporting.  Pootie Poot’s  press does that and those who do not are dealt with swiftly.  It is not for the press to hold you accountable.  In fact, you don’t have to speak to them at all.”

“Also, if I may, do not exalt in your victory at the Supreme Court.  What if it had ruled against you?  The courts are a potential block to your total authority.  You must continue to put them in their place.  Congress is also a threat to your total authority.  I see that the new Senator Young, from Indiana, is suggesting that Congress should assert itself over your ability to be strong with your enemies.  I would point out that his party cannot even repeal healthcare, that is, Obamacare holding all three branches of government and 33 states.  Tell him to shut up, that he is undermining the safety and security of the nation.”

“I like how you think, Authoritarian, maybe I need you on my team.” 

“President Donald, I appreciate that, but I think you are doing fine.  You made those weak democratic leaders in Europe look like lost sheep  last month.  You broke with the herd mentality on almost everything they hold dear.  And I think you could be a leader among the strongmen of the Arab world.”  To himself, Authoritarian thinks “I had great hopes for Arafat and his Pan-Arab approach.  That outpost of democracy in the middle east must be extinguished.”

“Uncle, the United States seems to be in turmoil over many things.  Americans seem riled about the repeal of Obamacare, the travel ban, education, the military, everything.  I would never put up with so much chaos, why do you seem unconcerned about it with Trump’s United States?”

“Pootie Poot, are you suffering from dementia? Do you not recall glasnost and perestroika?  Communism forced authority upon the people.  It’s better when they want it.  Glasnost and Perestroika were necessary times of chaos to show the people they wanted, needed, strong authority.  What was your last vote total?”

“I was voted in by over 63% of the voters.”

“Haha, that is even more than our new friend Donald got.  Don’t react President Trump, you will win easily the next election.  You have much power in the American Presidency, do not fear using it.  Silence the press, use the same brilliant strategy you used against the other Republicans who wanted to be President.  It should not be hard to assert your will over the shepherd McConnell.  In fact, sow more chaos and just blame Congress for it.  You can create much turmoil in the health care markets, you have a debt limit fight coming, refuse to borrow over the limit force the spending cuts that are needed.  Bend Congress to your will.”

“Refuse to pay the UN, talk of leaving that worthless organization.”  Ask one of the EU leaders to host it, Let Germany have it.  I applaud your change in policy toward Cuba.  Lifting the sanctions against Cuba only would give rise to those who wish democracy in Cuba, tightening the sanctions creates the conditions for strong Authority, to protect Cuba’s sovereignty.  This is a wonderful gift to the hardliners in Cuba and in Miami. Bravo.”

“Authoritarian, do you play golf?”  I’d love to host you at one of my exclusive clubs.” 

“Are you a betting man, Zaika?”

“What are we playing for?”


Pootie Poot interrupts, “what is this?  I think this is a listening device.  Could be NSA. “  Sound of the device landing on the floor……signal lost.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cheers to celebrating the things we value. 8 May 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, May 8 2005

Teaching Bible as literature? Be careful what you pray for, 18 March 2007

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, March 18, 2007

Bald eagle an inspiring sight, even on a dirty river, 30 June 2006

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 30 June 2006

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Talk to your children about common sense on the Net now, 26 June 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star 26 June 2005

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Change, uncertainty breed the need for absolute answers June 12, 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 12 June 2005

Much info still in the closet on sexual activity, July 29, 2007

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 29 July 207

A war that once seemed right now 'feels' wrong jul 10 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 10 July 2005

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Societal acceptance of same-sex marriage will take time, Jan 9 2006

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 9 Jul 2006

What will future hold for Iraqi's. Jan 30 2005


Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 30 Jan 2005

Civil discourse at its best online, 7 Jan 2007

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Jan 7 2007

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sense of belonging for all crucial to community's future, 2 January 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 2 January 2005

Violent Islamic reaction reveals deeper conflicts, Feb 19, 2006

Previously published in the 19 Feb 2006 Terre Haute Tribune Star

A reaction laced with hyporcrisy, Feb 6, 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 6 Feb 2005

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What would we do without the railroads? 5 February 2006

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 5 February 2006

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bush's plan makes Social Security reform look simple--but is it? Dec 26, 2004

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 26 Dec 2004

Trading liberty for security not viable option for America, Dec 25, 2005

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 25 Dec 2005

Abortion debate roots in women's changing roles, Dec 1, 2005

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Dec 1, 2005

Monday, May 29, 2017

The top three reasons why lists are so popular, August 29, 2004

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 29 August 2004

'Village' breaks down when too many adults look the other way, 28 August 2005


Previously published Terre Haute Tribune Star, 28 August 2005

PR battle over Iraq must now be waged at home, August 13, 2006

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 13 August 2006

Tax discussion challenges traditional positions, 12 August 2007

Previously published Terre Haute Tribune Star, 12 August 2007

Assessing the core of 'Hoosier values' April 16, 2006

Previously published Terre Haute Tribune Star, 16 April 2006

Technology, social movements drive cultural change, April 10, 2005

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, April 10, 2005

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Trick or treat, discontent, give us better government

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 30 October 2005





Sunday, May 21, 2017

Opportunities and threats from the Beacon of Democracy

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 21 May 2017
There was some bad news last week for the senior demon Authoritarian in the Battle with Democracy. We pick up on a conversation between Authoritarian and his nephew, Pootie Poot.
“Pootie Poot, I hoped that the Front National would have prevailed in France. We were building such momentum with victories in Turkey and the Philippines. It would have been another crack in the wicked European Union. Indeed, this has not been a particularly good week for us, has it?”
“Uncle, the French do not have the same taste for melodramatic sex scandal like the Americans. The leaked documents from Macron would have destroyed him in the U.S. Instead, the government chose to ignore the ill-gotten gain of our efforts and prohibited their publication.”
“Pootie Poot, you executed your part well but as the world becomes aware of us we may have to somewhat alter our ways. Enough with France, it only adds to my irritation. What of our battle with the beacon of Democracy, the United States. How was the meeting between your people and the Strongman Trump?”
“It was a success, Uncle! Access to the Oval Office was his test of loyalty but then he surprised with sharing of classified information. Strongman Trump is unpredictable but in a good way it seems.”
“That is good news but what about those photos? I hope you punished the leakers.”
“Yes, Uncle, global warming has not yet reached Siberia.”
“Despite the unwanted illumination of the meeting, it does demonstrate that Trump is loyal.”
“Indeed, Uncle, Zaika Trump is so eager to please.”
“Pootie Poot, the U.S. Strongman then fires Patriot Comey and it’s hard to deny that it wasn’t about the investigation now. Had the meeting not been known, the original plan would have been plausible. Not now.”
“Uncle, we will continue the claim that Patriot Comey is a showboat and grandstander. Already his insistence on testifying publicly proves the point. It’s enough to create our best friend, chaos. Republicans will want to keep Patriot Comey’s testimony private and the Democrats will want it public and that will become the issue. In the meantime the search for a loyalist to head up the FBI will continue but with distracted scrutiny. In any case, Uncle, the Patriot Comey is no longer a threat.”
“Ahh Pootie Poot, you make me smile. But there are now stories about memos that Patriot Comey wrote, detailing Strongman Trump, being a Strongman.”
“Uncle, this works to our advantage, the more focus on Zaika Trump’s actions, the less on us and there is a strong counter push against the press for its unnamed sources and reference to unpublished memos. The churn helps us. We will throw more computer hacks at them and stretch their resources. We can also give them additional distractions as well as a chance for Zaika Trump to bolster his support among his loyalists. He can show how ineffective the U.S. intelligence and security community are as we cripple their medical offices.”
“Pootie Poot, I admire your initiative. What are you thinking?”
“Our friend, the Great Successor, loves his rockets. He has been toying with them. We could help him to make one fly farther, straighter, and more accurately than ever before. It would scare the U.S. military who rightly downplays the Great Successor’s toys but let’s give them something to raise an alarm with and then those wanting a demonstration of how good a strongman works instead of Democracy’s fumbling, with its archaic rules and practices, we could aid an easy and effective response by Zaika Trump.”
“Yes, a good mano a mano meeting between Strongman Trump and the Great Successor would be just the kind of demonstration needed. It would also distract from investigations. Imagine an Oval Office photo of the Great Successor and Strongman Trump announcing that there will be no more missile tests. All as part of a trade deal involving agricultural commodities. I can hear it now, Trump opens new markets and ends the Great Successor’s ballistic missile program! Oh Pootie Poot, you have made my day.”
“Uncle Authoritarian, I just checked Fox News and the support for calling a constitutional convention in the Democratic beacon is growing. The divide among Americans over the role of the press will no doubt bolster that effort. That will be a tremendous opportunity for us.”
“Pootie Poot, what is this? Patriot Mueller is named as a special counsel! Trouble is here, so open the gates.”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A peek beyond the precipice of impending battle

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 26 March 2017

There are forces of good and evil in the world. Today, we are fortunate to eavesdrop on the forces of evil as a senior demon, Authoritarian, provides advice to his nephew, Pootie Poot, on battling the good, Democracy.
“My dear Pootie Poot, we are on the precipice of achieving our goal, the dismantling of the practice of Democracy, an evil that blocks us from our destiny! I know you are anxious, but be patient.”
“Uncle Authoritarian, why not just manipulate vote totals and elect our collaborators and sympathizers?”
“Pootie Poot, be patient. I know you could change vote totals but don’t do that! It is important that the people believe it is their will and decision to vote for Total Authority.” Our prize is the beacon of personal freedom and democracy, the United States. Our efforts must be nuanced and exploit their weaknesses and turn their strength against them. The U.S. press is ‘free’ but lazy. The ‘journalists’ work for people who want to make money and thus they scramble after the sensational, to be first, rather than right. The more sensational the claim, you can trust they will report it. They will report sensation over the real, so spreading those emails from ‘staffers’ will work even better than attacking the leaders themselves.”
“Uncle, that seems to only serve as a distraction a ‘he said, she said’ argument. Nothing seems resolved and the next sensational headline, some entertainer having a baby, distracts them.”
“Pootie, that is all right. As long as the political leaders disagree on even what events are important, it doesn’t matter. What we want is the two political parties to look at the same thing, for example a leak of classified material that exposes us and our collaborators, and have the political parties divide over it. For example, one party focuses on the content of the leaked material and the other on the crime of leaking and seek to identify the leaker. This is perfect for us!”
“Uncle, there are patriots. Americans are a patriotic people, are they not?”
“Many Americans are patriots, but few American political leaders are patriots. See how few of them even serve in the military or any of their children. Do not be confused by the nationalists. Remember, nationalism is a path to isolation and division and thus is good for us. The nationalists will put party above all else and we can paralyze them politically. Oh how stupid they are not to realize this. They beg for Total Authority and do not realize it!”
“Uncle Authoritarian, is this why we do not try to foment a military coup in the United States, because the military is full of patriots?”
“My dear Pootie Poot, Americans are a complicated people. You might think that all military people are patriotic, but many are political and some are just out for themselves. A couple of places you can be sure there are patriots and the one’s we need to be careful of are in the Intelligence community and in law enforcement. They will put country first and already we have seen some of this at work. We thought that Patriot Comey had compromised himself during the 2016 election, but listen to what he just said:  ‘They’ll be back in 2020, … They may be back in 2018 and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful, because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sowed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.’ ‘One of the lessons’, Patriot Comey says, hahaha, we are already ahead of you!”
“But Uncle, Patriot Comey just revealed our plan!!!”
“Yes, my dear Pootie Poot, he did and what did I say earlier? Rely on the party divisions to call light dark and dark light, just as is happening now with one side focused on identifying the leaker instead of our actions and our collaborators. Relax Pootie and let the Americans do the heavy work of undermining 250 years of constitutional democracy and make way for Total Authority!”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Stress, poor health contributing to less sex

Previously published, Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 19 March 2017

“About how often did you have sex during the last 12 months?” The General Social Survey, a respected annual survey since 1972, heavily used by social scientists, has asked this question regularly since 1989. A recent publication, “Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989-2014” analyzes changes in responses to that question . Overall, the trends are down, which explains probably why general happiness among Americans is down as well.
“American adults reported having sex about nine times a year less often in the early 2010s than in the late 1990s” the authors find. After considerable statistical analysis, the decline in sexual frequency reflects a generational change. The average Millenial (born in the 1980s) had sex about six times a year less than the average Silent generation member (born in the 1930s). Declines are similar across sex, race, region and the presence of minor children in the household. Contrary to popular culture presentation, married couples have more sex than others, but that too has declined and accounts for much of the overall reduction. Thus, the decrease overall in the number of married people and the decline in frequency of sex among marrieds explains much of the observed decline. These conclusions take into account the overall aging population (older folks have less sex than younger ones and the increase in the consumption of pornography (which is associated with more sex).
The rest of the article attempts to suggest why this is the case including possibly the Clintonian “what does it, ‘sex’, mean?”
One trend that the authors do not explicitly discuss is America’s increasing weight and obesity problem. According to the National Institute of Health since 1962 obesity has more than doubled among adults 20 and older. Adding in the overweight, today about 70 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese compared to a bit more than half in 1990. While the authors suggest that some drugs that are related to diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure may affect sexual performance and desire, they also report that drugs for erectile dysfunction should enhance sexual activity, they do not address directly what all that extra weight might do to American sexual frequency.
Sex, regardless of how one might define it, narrowly as involving heterosexual intercourse (likely how the Silent Generation did) or more expansively to include, …, well you know, and if you don’t then ask a thirty-something, requires some physical activity, a certain amount of agility, and let’s not discount the physical appearances of those engaged. And while those who watched a pornographic movie in the last week have more sex, today’s pornography is different than yesterday’s. The images in the Victoria’s Secret catalog today were pretty much limited to the pages of soft core pornography in the ‘80s. And mass media imagery impacts what people think is sexy, attractive and desirable.
Another change since the late ‘80s is abstinence-only sex education. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 1988 abstinence-only sex education accounted for only 2 percent of all sex education, but by the 2010s, nearly 23 percent. What kind of message does abstinence only sex education send about sex aside from it should be confined to marriage? If sex is portrayed as a threat to one’s self, as a corrupting or staining outcome except inside the confines of marriage conducted for procreative purposes, such a view of sex would likely diminish overall sexual activity as well. And with fertility rates at near historic lows, even procreative sex within marriage appears to be ebbing.
Lastly, for those who distrust government or academic research, what does research from commercial interests say about sex? Durex, the condom manufacturer, studies sexual satisfaction internationally and they conclude the following: the physical drivers of sexual satisfaction are being free from stress and good mental and physical health, being free from stress to achieve orgasm, being free from sexual dysfunction, and the frequency of sex and foreplay. The emotional drivers of sexual satisfaction are feeling close to your partner, having an exciting sex life, being free from sexual dysfunction, and having a good first sexual experience. 
In short, being healthy and free of stress is key. As a nation, we seem unhealthier and more stressed. No wonder sexual frequency may be at an all-time low.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

ISU can be proud of how it helps students succeed

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 5 February 2017

In a Sunday Review in the Jan. 18 New York Times, titled “America’s Working Class Colleges,” I learned of an effort to rank “all” of America’s colleges and universities by how much mobility flows from them for working class students, measured by their parents’ household incomes. Working class students are those students who come from a household in the bottom 20 percent of the household income distribution. The study comes from The Equality of Opportunity Project (www.equality-of-opportunity.org). And, in a true spirit of scholarship, they share their data. I downloaded it to examine Indiana colleges and universities. This is a working class state, so how do we do at helping those students achieve economic mobility?
I was able to find 10 four-year Indiana colleges and universities and two two-year universities. Not all Indiana colleges were listed; Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and Marian University were not listed.
I was, of course, interested in how well ISU did, because ISU, as long as I have been here, (into my 31st) year, has had the reputation of a “blue-collar university.”
The data is highly quantitative and perhaps this essay will prompt the Trib-Star to look into the report and create some easy-to-understand charts from the data, but such graphics are not the “stuff” of the opinion pages.
Data were taken from students who graduated between 1980 and 1991 and then their individual incomes between the ages of 32-34. One measure is median household income of all students during the study time period. ISU ranks last among the four-years and third when VU and IVTCC are added. ISU’s median student family income was $82,600 while the highest family income is Notre Dame at $165,400 twice as much as ISU.
Ranking median student individual earnings at age 32-34, ISU ranks ninth of the 12 institutions at $37,800. The lowest was IVTCC at $25,900 and the highest is $83,600 at Rose-Hulman.
What proportion of the institutions’ student body comes from low-income households? Not surprisingly, the two-year schools have the highest proportion but among the four-year schools, ISU is number one at 6.7 percent. The lowest proportion is Notre Dame at 1.4 percent. Certainly these numbers confirm ISU’s reputation as Indiana’s four-year working class institution.
Just for fun we can examine the share of students who come from the top 1 percent of the income distribution. ISU ranks last, at 0.5 percent, among the four-years and is very similar to the two-years with 0.3 percent. Running away from the field, at 11.0 percent, is Notre Dame.
Also, we can infer an institution’s de facto mission by looking at the change in percent of students admitted from the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Six of the 10 four-year schools decreased the proportion of students admitted from the bottom 40 percent, three were essentially unchanged, but ISU increased its share as did the two-year schools.
The key measure, according to the “Equality of Opportunity Project” is the “mobility rate,” the percent of children who come from the bottom 20 percent and reach the top 20 percent of the income distribution. Here, ISU is tied at third, at 1.1 percent, among the dozen Indiana institutions. The highest is Rose-Hulman at 2.2 and the lowest, USI, at 0.6 percent.
Those who work at ISU, I hope, can take some pride in this accomplishment. I do. However, the working-class university that ranks number one in the U.S., at 9.9 percent in the mobility rate, is California State University at Los Angeles. The U.S. average is 1.7 percent. Only two Indiana colleges are at the national average or above. VU reaches that U.S. average mark of 1.7, and Rose-Hulman exceeds it at 2.2 percent. Indiana’s average, based on my calculations, is 1.1, so while ISU ranks high in Indiana, it is just average and below average nationally.
Regardless of what anyone might think of the numbers, for those students who come from humble families to experience such mobility in a short period of time, 10 years, is a significant and life-changing impact in their material existence. Many who work at universities, especially the faculty, hope they have a positive impact on their students’ lives. In Indiana, a working-class state, ISU makes a difference for working-class students. 
Personally, I’d like to see more of our efforts couched in these terms and use metrics like this to demonstrate our success.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What does 'liberal agenda' really mean?

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 15 January 2017

I am (apparently) a member of the “liberal elite.” I didn’t aspire to it. Beverly Gage, writing in the January 3, 2017, New York Times Magazine states its “one of the nastiest epithets in American Politics.” The term has been around a long time, and is proof of “repeat a lie long enough and it becomes ‘truth’.”
Who are the liberal elite? There is a geographic aspect to it: they live in the coastal states but apparently not the Gulf Coast because then we would include those who reside in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The image of liberal elites doesn’t fit driving around in a Cadillac with a longhorn hood ornament. Those south-eastern Atlantic states, North Carolina with its highly regulated bathrooms, Florida’s “stand your ground laws” and Georgia’s most lenient gun laws in the nation are hardly bastions of the “liberal elite.”
The liberal elite also live in cities, San Francisco, LA, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., with outposts in Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin. So far, I don’t fit.
Beyond geography, according to Conservapedia, “The Liberal Elite is a term used to describe those high-ranking members of society — politicians, college educators and celebrities — who regularly promote the liberal agenda to unsuspecting teenagers and young people.”  Three occupations are especially contaminated with the liberal elite, college educators being one of them. I am guilty of that profession, professing the discipline of sociology to students. Lastly, Conservapedia adds this: “The Liberal Elite believe they are superior to others. Not in a physical sense but mentally, they have their high ground and nobody dare challenge. If you challenge the Liberal Elite thinking and beliefs, you risk being ridiculed.” I am surprised that the “conservative inferiors” (literally the antonym of liberal elite) would be so concerned about ridiculing. Do they need a “safe space?” I like being challenged. Most college professors I know want their students to challenge them instead of trying to guess what we want to hear.
Conservapedia offers a long list of the characteristics and traits of the liberal elite. It’s too long here to reproduce but among the most damning for me are the following: “professor values,” “birth control,” and “public schools.”
Lastly, Wikipedia offers that the liberal elite (only left-leaning individuals) “used their education to open doors to power and influence” and formed a managerial elite. This must be in contrast to those who inherit their wealth and influence and need to hire folks with the skills to manage their wealth and companies.
Here is my “liberal agenda:” I believe humans are capable of learning; that means sometimes moving beyond conventional wisdom such as supply-side economics and that government can solve all the problems. I resist bigotry of lumping those who I disagree with into some abstract group with a negative label like “liberal elite” or “fly-over country.” In fact, I call people and groups by the name that they wish to be called as a matter of respect, so pro-life people are pro-life and pro-choice people are pro-choice (not abortionists or a hate group). I seek to understand, even though sometimes it’s difficult, “the other side.” I try to argue over the factual aspects of the debates, although, I admit, that seems harder and harder to do, snark and clever accusations seem more the form of debate today.
I admit to sarcasm in response to sarcastic or nasty remarks, but like swearing, it’s overused and has lost its effect. I am skeptical of power, both governmental and corporate. I do not watch much television or many mainstream movies (anymore). I prefer to read the news instead of listening to it. I cherish free speech the way individuals do which is why I prefer the public square over the mall. I also believe in and practice civility. Most of my life I have been associated with a church, I am not nor ever was particularly religious. I am a gun owner but am uncomfortable with the macho fetish gun culture that now grips America. I believe there is racial and gender bias on both sides, but it matters far, far more for one side.
I do not support capital punishment, even for Dylan Roof. I support Social Security but favor indexing increases to a different measure of cost of living more reflective of retirees. I don’t believe corporations are people and they do not have speech.
If you agree with much of the above you might be an “elite,” too.
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