media, Politics and Grassroots

The Republican debate is set up all wrong

No kidding, right? But there are two big problems with the debate to talk about in this weekend’s post at Communities Digital News.

In reality, fitting a giant candidate field into an hour long debate is a square peg-round hole problem. The networks, sponsors, and even the Republican party are trying to figure out how to handle a historically large field using the same promotion vehicles they used when only a handful of people could afford to mount a primary campaign.

It may not happen every single cycle, but it will happen again. Networks need to use the 2016 primary season to figure out how to handle it.

Crummy Little Podcast, media, Politics and Grassroots

The last thing the world needs is another crummy little podcast…

…But, as Chris Elliott replied when David Letterman asked him if people would want to see a movie like Cabin Boy, “Ask me if I care.” (And I’m pretty sure that flick won an Oscar.)

My newest project is the Crummy Little Podcast – an excuse for me to talk to smart people about stuff I find interesting. The first guest is an old Friend of the Program, Matt Lewis, who talks about his forthcoming book, Too Dumb To Fail: How the GOP Won Elections By Sacrificing Ideas (And How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots). Donald Trump, The Simpsons, and the Counting Crows all come up, as you’d expect.

Check out some extras and keep up to date over at  CrummyLittlePodcast.com. Or, if you’re so inclined, subscribe on iTunes.

media, Politics and Grassroots

He’s Trump! He’s Trump! He’s in their heads. (Sorry.)

Donald Trump is leading the pack? Not so fast. This week’s post at Communities Digital News does some critical analysis of those results that news media ought to be doing. The polls the news reports are citing aren’t looking in the right places, nor are they asking questions of the right people. They should know better than to project a front runner off of that but knowing better probably doesn’t help attract eyeballs.

In a just-recorded podcast episode with friend-of-the-program Matt Lewis (and some post-podcast discussions) he pointed out that there is a legitimate affinity for Trump. It is kind of nice to see a Republican who doesn’t walk on eggshells and apologize for his or her beliefs, which is something too many national GOP figures do. So there is something to Trump’s early support.

But is it anything more than name recognition? FiveThirtyEight doesn’t think so.

In reality, showing up to vote is much different from answering a telephone poll, especially in caucus states. It takes a lot of hard, specialized work. That’s why Trump’s fundraising will be interesting to watch, even if he doesn’t really need the money. For all his millions, fundraising shows an organizational discipline that can translate to other fields as well.

Sports

In sports, gambling is worse than steroids

ESPN was been all over sports gambling stories in June, weren’t they? This week it’s Phil Mickelson, last week it was proof that Pete Rose bet while he was a player.

Gambling has been a third rail activity for athletes since the Black Sox scandal, and yet it has shaped sports more than almost anything other than television. Fantasy Football has boosted the NFL, and just about everyone fills out a bracket when March Madness rolls around each year. For those with short attention spans, there are one-day fantasy sports gambling sites which promise the thrill of the wager without a season-long commitment.

Yet the players who become involved with gambling – Rose, the Black Sox, Paul Hornung and “George” from TV show Websterthe 1978-79 Boston College basketball players – meet with more disgrace than if they had committed any other sin against the integrity of the game. Gamblers Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson are banned by rule from Baseball’s Hall of Fame; PED users Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro weren’t elected but at least appeared on the ballot.

The fact that gambling is so interwoven into watching and enjoying sports is exactly why we don’t put up with it from athletes themselves. After all, if the players’ motivations aren’t purely focused on winning, how hard would it be to put down money on their chances?

We can’t have some schmuck messing up our Fantasy Teams just because the mob is threatening to break his thumbs.

Politics and Grassroots

What is love?

Baby, don’t hurt me, but that’s a natural question in the wake of today’s Supreme Court ruling. Or more appropriately, what is marriage?

Same sex marriage advocates are romanticizing the decision as a win for “love.” How silly to believe that something as big as love can be defined or confined by something as small as legal proceedings. Justice Kennedy’s opinion was clear that, because the 14th Amendment preserves equal protection under the law at the state level, all states must recognize the practice. He wrote that marriage was a fundamental right which could not be denied.

What he didn’t write was what a definition of marriage. That seems just a little important, doesn’t it?

It’s the giant gorilla no one talks about: Much of the vitriol in the same sex marriage debate stems from an unspoken disagreement over the definition of a marriage. If you believe a marriage is a pairing of biologically complimentary individuals intent on procreating, you might see a same sex union as pointless. Sure, the participants might offer each other emotional support and companionship, but the very root need for a marriage doesn’t exist. (This point of view was summed up nicely by the priest in Spaceballs: “I’m trying to conduct a marriage here, which has nothing to do with love.”)

Conversely, if you believe that marriage is a committment based solely on love, you don’t see a reason (other than bigotry) why someone would oppose same sex marriage. Each side would be well served to assume better of the other.

Kennedy wrote that pairings should not be limited – that the fundamental right to be with the person you love shouldn’t be confined to heterosexuals. Fair enough. But it is fair to ask, why stop at a pairing? Two is an arbitrary number when biological considerations are brushed aside. Why couldn’t polygamists marry all the consenting adults they’d like to marry? Why do we recognize marriages at all?

There may very well be answers to these questions, but Kennedy didn’t spell them out. If marriage (or any other protected institution, status, or practice) is a nebulous concept, government cannot do its job, which is to guarantee citizens equal protection under the law. So while this week’s opinion may have been a short-term victory for same sex marriage advocates, it’s tough to say what exactly they won.

Interesting Reading

Go ahead and teach Shakespeare

Dana Dusbiber, a Sacramento high school English teacher, thinks teaching William Shakespeare to her students is a waste of time. She blogs her reasoning in the Washington Post.

I do not believe that I am “cheating” my students because we do not read Shakespeare. I do not believe that a long-dead, British guy is the only writer who can teach my students about the human condition. I do not believe that not viewing “Romeo and Juliet” or any other modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play will make my students less able to go out into the world and understand language or human behavior…

Look, let’s put this right out here: Shakespeare’s plays wouldn’t fly if he wrote them today. There are asides to the audience, soliloquies and monologues, and other conventions that just don’t work for modern viewers. If Hamlet debuted this weekend it wouldn’t go over at a dinner theater in the Poconos, much less Broadway. The language is in an centuries-old dialect of English. And the context for the stories are dated.

So yes, if your reason for studying literature is to learn about the “human condition,” there are easier and more relatable sources. Yet the study of the human condition is not the only reason for the study of literature – that’s a big reason we have sociology. Narrative structures, plot devices, and other technical aspects of a story are important too – not just for understanding one piece of literature, but to give students the tools they need to understand other pieces as needed. This is the reason we study so many works that weren’t written within the past ten years.

I am sad that so many of my colleagues teach a canon that some white people decided upon so long ago and do it without question.

Cheer up and think about this: Shakespeare’s works are among the most influential in all of literature. That decision wasn’t made by English teachers in 1920, but by the people creating content today. Look at the parallels between Macbeth and House of Cards, or between Hamlet and The Lion King. Have you ever teased a male friend who was popular with the ladies by calling him “Romeo”? Have you ever heard someone accused of having blood on their hands?

Incidentally, this is the same reason schools ought to study the Bible as a piece of literature: It is such a common source for cultural references that ignoring it leaves an awfully wide cognitive gap. (Heck, they can’t even make a Superman movie anymore without packing in imagery likening the Man of Steel to Jesus Christ.)

I am sad that we don’t reach beyond our own often narrow beliefs about how young people become literate to incorporate new research on how teenagers learn, and a belief that our students should be excited about what they read — and that may often mean that we need to find the time to let them choose their own literature.

You’re the teacher. If students were equipped to “choose their own literature” and understand the context and what to look for, English class would be a waste of time and they could spend more time getting those math scores up where they need to be.

So I ask, why not teach the oral tradition out of Africa, which includes an equally relevant commentary on human behavior? Why not teach translations of early writings or oral storytelling from Latin America or Southeast Asia other parts of the world? Many, many of our students come from these languages and traditions. Why do our students not deserve to study these “other” literatures with equal time and value?

The obvious response would be, “Because it’s English class.” But that’s not the right answer, because Dusbiber is onto something here. Why not include those things? It’s more of a comparative lit track than something you’d see in a high school English class, but that’s just nitpicking. There’s no reason to exclude the works she’s talking about, and if it means a little less Shakespeare, it’s ok. What might be especially relevant are the similarities between themes. Without knowing much about the oral traditions in the places she cites, it’s still a pretty fair bet that they include stories about corruption, ambition, greed, envy, and all the other delightful corners of humanity that Shakespeare liked to explore.

Exploring those similarities might make Shakespeare’s work even more familiar and relevant to students. After all, what better way to show the universal themes of the human condition than to point to similar subject matter explored in plays from Elizabethan England and stories passed down through generations in southeast Asia?

Ignoring the Bard puts students at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding modern cultural references and context, the same way ignoring long division might put students at a disadvantage when they try to understand higher forms of math. Hopefully for Dusbiber’s students, she can find a blend of old and new which does right by her students.

Politics and Grassroots

Hillary Clinton’s razor-thin 38-point polling advantage

That’s Hillary Clinton’s average lead among non-white voters over various Republican candidates in the head-to-head questions from the CNN/ORC poll released on Tuesday. But the 64-68% support range she hovers might not be enough. As discussed in this week’s post on Communities Digital News, Clinton is lagging behind President Obama’s 82%-16% edge among non-white voters during his re-election.

All the headlines yapped about the Republican field closing the gap on Clinton. That’s important psychologically, but we all knew the race would tighten. This a much bigger potential problem for Clinton.

The difference between where Clinton sits and Obama’s 2012 performance translates into Mitt Romney carrying Florida, Virginia, and Ohio – with a real shot at picking up either Nevada or Colorado for an Electoral College majority. Again, this doesn’t anticipate any minority votes moving from the blue column to the red column; those are only lost votes.

That’s a real big problem for Clinton, who will surely try to exploit police/community relations as a wedge issue.

Maybe Clinton still gets by with a little help from her friends. The NAACP will surely try to literally scare up black voters with images of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown. The arbotion industry will try to do the same with women. Plus, there’s always fraud.

But the point is that she has to do something, because she isn’t inheriting the Obama coalition – at least, not in the numbers she needs.