Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Labor Leadership in 2008

For those of you interested in labor's position on politics, there is an interesting NYT piece on where the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations are in terms of endorsing candidates. I found this link at the blog, Standing with Labor and there is a solid analysis of the situation there. Basically, it breaks down to: 1) Unions don't want to jump on the bandwagon too soon so that they end up endorsing a candidate that has no chance of winning, but 2) if unions want to have the power (and do, in fact, have the power that they already claim), then they need to be able to push for their candidate. Picking someone who will win anyway is like telling the DLC-corporate Democrats, "Go ahead, you make your pick, then we will go along with that and beg for the table scraps from your candidate."

I have no doubt that Edwards is far better on labor issues than Clinton (who will inevitably be the candidate ordained by the New York AFL-CIO and UFT—and, therefore, AFT) and I don't know enough about Obama's record to know about his labor credentials to compare to Edwards. But, what I do know that Edwards has worked his ass off for the nomination of labor and, if they withhold it for the eventual 'winner', unions will be seen for a generation of Democratic candidates as 'fair-weather friends' and will have no influence at all. I can get behind an endorsement of someone I prefer less than my ideal candidate; but I can't get behind wishy-washy-we-don't-want-to-rock-to-many-boats political endorsements that mean more politics-as-horserace crap.

If unions want to reshape the political landscape and pass things like EFCA, then we have to take the leadership, and the attendant risks of leadership, to do it. If they want to be relegated to whining about candidates that never listen, then I don't want to hear it anymore. And, as Jordan point outs, with Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire front-loaded, unions could really be a "king (or queen) maker"; it's up to union members and (to a much to-great extent) leaders to decide.

Congratulations to Good Friends

Congratulations to the folks over at Free Exchange for their positive coverage in today's Inside Higher Ed. It seems like those who want transparency of our academic institutions are themselves not so transparent.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Reject Relay!

Speaking of UNITE HERE campaigns , she is working with workers at the NY/NJ Port Authority airports (specifically, Newark and JFK) who have gotten so fed up with their company, HDS North American Retail (they operate the RELAY travel, Virgin Records and other stores) that they are asking people to boycott their own stores.

Lest someone argue that these types of corporate campaigns are all talk and no walk, well the workers did just that. On Thursday morning, to show how frustrated they were, the workers walked out on a one day strike. Although I know that we have had our trouble with one-day walkouts, this is such a cool way to demonstrate to the company (and the Port Authority who actually owns the space) how serious the workers are about organizing. While I know that I am biased because E. is working on the campaign, I think that this is the best way to combine the benefits of a "corporate comprehensive campaign" with the power of on-the-ground worker mobilization. If I can get any more information out of E. about it, I will pass it along.

But, until then, sign the petition and don't shop at Virgin Records in the airport (I know that is what everyone does when they travel).

Hey, Look at Me!!!

Hello dear readers. It is very early in the morning here in Brooklyn. I was hoping to be spending the latter part of the evening with E., but due to Northwest Airline's incompetence (and, supposedly because of the weather or something), she is stuck in Detroit tonight and I am alone—except for the dog.

Since E. is not here, I decided that I would spend the evening trying to finish re-skinning my blog. As you can see, I managed to get that done - I figured I had wasted enough time trying to only do one or two things at a time (which, invariably turned into an hour-long project), so I just finished it. So, here it is. My brand-new look. It is only my second fully realized web project to date (you can see my first here), and I don't think that it turned out that badly.

I have not yet had a chance to put all of the sidebar items that I would like. However, I imagine that the list is either going to be greatly reduced and I wanted to know if there was anything that anyone particularly liked from the old design. I will hopefully be adding more to the sidebar shortly.

Also, many of you will recognize the image in the header as that from the CGEU website. This was not an attempt at dishonesty to pass the work off as my own, but the fact is that it was originally a `filler' to hold the place of an image, but the more I worked with it, the more I liked it. If anyone knows who created the image, I would like to give her/him credit; and, if anyone (particularly said her/him) thinks it too dishonest to keep, let me know and I will be happy to try and find/make an alternate image.

Finally, since others might be interested in this escapade, I will try and share some of the things that I found out about using Blogger's xml language and tricks I developed to create the design.

Please, any comments and/or feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'm glad I'm not a monster...

'Nuff said.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dispatch from Nerdistan

I spent the good portion of my day trying to figure out how to get the free text editor Notepad++ to be compatible with Stata. Why, might you ask, am I doing this? Because among the things that are terribly wrong with Stata (and, I have to admit, for commercial ready-to-use software, there is very little...ehem), is that it's command-file editor is awful. If you make more than two mistakes in a row, and this would include what I perceive to be of deleting two separate lines at almost the same time, you lose that information. It is like writing on Microsoft Word back in the days of 286 processors.

The other really bad part of Stata's .do-file editor is that it does not highlight syntax. This may seem like a trivial thing, but since most of the work that I have gotten paid to do over the past two years is very intense scripting in order to make a very complex dataset usable - I have files that are approaching several thousand lines long. Not being able to find commands has become a huge pain (and making sure that I close all of my loops so that I don't have to run files over and over and over again). But, thanks to the help of some very very smart people (who are also, coincidentally great teachers if I was able to figure out how to do this) I managed to get the whole thing integrated so that I don't have to worry about making one two mistakes in a row anymore.

So why I am I telling you this, dear reader(s)? Because a) I am damn proud of myself for being able to figure it out, even when I thought that hope was lost; and b) because I know that some people occasionally read this blog who mess around in scripting languages and, therefore, I also wanted to sing the praises of Notepad++ and AutoIt for making it possible. Yup, I know, I'm a nerd; but a nerd who may manage to keep his sanity and eyesight for just a little bit longer!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The "Tolerant" Creative Class

While I certainly find this clip from Colbert Report entertaining, I also find it deeply troubling. On the one hand, Stephen Colbert is joking around about trying to find "gay/lesbian, bohemian, and artistic" people to move to their neighborhood, but on th other, there are certainly people who take this seriously. In and of itself, I don't think that it is necessarily troubling that this is the case, but the commodification of gayness is disturbing, to say the least. The commodification of gayness blunts the real political message of tolerance; gay people are assets to a community economically and, therefore, should be accepted on economic grounds. While I am certainly more pragmatically-minded than many of my friends, I find it deeply troubling that people are accepted only on account of their economic advantage to a city. While I think that Florida's point is that diverse communities fare better because they are diverse, measuring openness to diversity by the sole metric of acceptance of gays, lesbians, bohemians and artists is a deeply disturbing metric of tolerance that has the effect of fetishizing gays and lesbians as a metric against which to measure one's own diversity.

This openness to diversity is also not everything that it is purported to be. For instance, in the preface to the paperback edition, Florida's own evidence shows that five of the ten most creative regions [1] are also in the top ten in terms of income inequality. Furthermore, Florida himself acknowledges that "diversity" does not always mean people seeking open communities:

Some of my critics like to argue that many people who work in high-tech industries tend to be blandly conservative and prefer homogeneous communities and traditional lifestyles of the sort found in middle-class suburbs. They find evidence in the fact that so many high-tech people line in suburban enclaves like northern Virginia, the heart of Silicon Valley or the Seattle suburbs. My response is simple. These places are all located within major metropolitan areas that are among the most divers in the country and offer a wide array of lifestyle amenities. In face, these places are themselves a product of the openness and diversity of the broader areas. Had the Silicon Valley-San Fransisco area not been receptive years ago to offbeat people like the young Steven Jobs, it could not have become what it is.[2]

Unfortunately, however, it seems like Florida wants to argue from two perspectives that don't quite fit. On the one hand, he is arguing that diverse neighborhoods are the important important level of analysis to consider when talking about creative people and that these mobile creative communities should gain a class consciousness because they understand the reshaping of the world better than those who rely on neighborhood social networks and "old world" institutions like labor unions. However, when people point out that the very "creative class" he is talking about settles in homogeneous suburban enclaves (and, in many cases further racial and economic segregation, more on this later if I have time), he simply says, "oh, it is the metropolitan area that is the most important level of analysis."

This is not to say that I disagree with him. I think that the "creative class," or, more specifically, people employed in the creative/high-wage service professions that he identifies do look for tolerant places to live. But, I am not sure that it is the search for this creative "diversity" that drives the changes as much as the economic realities that help shape where those jobs exist. While people are certainly more mobile than we were a generation ago (I say as I am "telecommuting" from New York to Ann Arbor), there are still economic factors that are at play well beyond the search for gay, bohemian and artistic communities. Housing prices for instance, have gotten to such a point that you either have to live in extreme suburbs or pay exorbitant prices to live in established neighborhoods in the city. Therefore, artists and bohemians look for places to live that are less expensive but might not be acceptable to a mainstream population. Where are these places? Often in areas that have seen decades of systematic disinvestment and are almost always poor and most of the time predominantly communities of color. So, while Wicker Park (Chicago), Clinton Hill and Harlem (New York), Adam's Morgan (D.C.) might be more tolerant towards gays, they certainly didn't accept mingling with the poor or an integrated neighborhood. But, this is where it is convenient to note that Chicago, New York and D.C. all have large, multi-ethnic populations at the metropolitan level.

While I don't find Florida's work repugnant or un-academic (which are charges that I have seen or been implied in work that I have read), I think that it is occasionally sloppy in its inferences. This would not be so bad except for the fact that growing inequality is incompatible with the understanding of a place as "tolerant" outside of a very narrow frame of what it means to be "tolerant." And, if we are to take seriously Florida's call to action among the creative class to find ways to reduce this inequality (in the conclusion of Rise of the Creative Class, then we must also question what it means to be "tolerant" and accept that class-based and race-based tolerance are also important notions towards a "diverse" city.

[1] Of regions with at least 1 million people. return
[2] Rise of the Creative Class, p. 233. return

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tenure Good?

An article in today's Inside Higher Ed reports on a situation at Northeastern University in Boston in which faculty members without "proper" accreditation were released so that the university could higher more tenure and tenure-track faculty members. The article notes that many of these lecturers and adjuncts have had decades of experience teaching at Northeastern and that Northeastern has often focused on "experiential learning" programs such as coops and gaining hands-on experience.

This situation is troubling to me on several levels, but there are two that stand out predominantly for me. The first concerns the role of a university. If the role of the university is to teach students, then I think that the practice of teaching is often overlooked as an important facet of the educational experience. I don't care how much expertise a person has, if they are unable to get up in front of a group of students and explain it in such a way that it makes students think in ways that they have not thought before, gives them skills that they can use in their chosen profession or give them the background kinds of knowledge that they need to go investigate the world themselves, then an educational institution has failed its mission. I don't believe that there is any reason why someone with an advanced degree can do this particular task any better than someone without an advanced degree. And, certainly for many professional programs, it is vitally important that there are teachers who have experience in the profession that students are being trained for. I have talked to people who are getting degrees/have gotten degrees in social work, public policy and public health who have never taken a class or gained an intimate knowledge of the practical problems that will be faced in a profession. While nothing can prepare someone comparably to gaining experience on the job, it is important that students know what kinds of issues they are likely to face in any given chosen profession and practical strategies for dealing with the situations that do arise.

This is not to say that advanced degrees don't offer something. I will not spend the better part of six years of my life attempting to obtain something that I don't think is worthwhile. But, obtaining Ph.D.s are a good way to become an expert in a certain area, which is vitally important. Maybe if our president had listened to the historians, military strategists, cultural anthropologists with highly specialized knowledge about specific aspects of war, we might not be in the quagmire that we are in. On the other hand, most professional jobs and more and more non-professional careers require that someone have broad-based knowledge about different aspects and how to deal with the practical uncertainties, divisions, memo-writing, agenda-making that make up the day-to-day tasks of jobs.

The second part that concerns me is the effort to make tenure the gold-standard for all higher-ed employment. While the AAUP has been defending tenure and the AFT has been pushing FACE legislation, there are other considerations to having a full-time academy than tenure. Protecting the kind of people who have been working at Northeastern for decades and the professionals who take a side job teaching college students because they want to have an impact on their profession need to be protected as well. To receive a notice that after decades of service, you are no longer welcome, is a disgrace and huge slap in the face. And while the representative from the AAUP quoted in the article claims that this is not the best way to handle these situations, on paper, the "long-term" outcome (more tenured and tenure-track professors as a proportion to the total of academics hired) is exactly what the AAUP and FACE legislation would end up creating.

While the goals and aims of both the AAUP and the AFT are solid, the devil is, as always, in the details. Without specific mention of situations such as these in policies and programs advocated by strong organizations, I am afraid that will be more examples such as this; or, even worse, universities will intentionally fire these lecturers to make a show and say "our hands are tied by the policies of the AAUP/AFT/[insert organization here] put in place — go blame them for losing your job." I don't think that will be good for anyone, but as long as the conversation remains solely and explicitly about tenure, I fear that this going to be the result of these policies.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

I'm Back

Just to let everyone know, my apprehensions about my presentation were well-founded. My paper is in a state of entire disarray in which I don't seem to have enough theory to tie it together, the theory that I do have in the paper is not as the theory that I happened to come up with during the meeting (meaning that I should re-write the paper to fit that theory), and I am not positive that there is even a way to do what I want to do statistically. It would be nice to actually have some clue about this at some point.

On the other hand, I got to see some friends and hang out with cool people. And, Cleo the wonderdog got to see her boyfriend (yeah, that's right, I chaperoned my dog on a 600 mile booty-call). Seeing as how I have a great deal of work to do on this paper, blogging may be light in the next couple of days/weeks/months/years, but I will try to find time to pop on in...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Who knew?

Good readers of my humble blog, I am still working on said paper. I have not gotten very far in terms of writing, though I am rather proud of myself that I managed to understand an article about the complexities of HLM without needing someone to sit down and hold my hand and explain it to me. Maybe the previous four years of such hand-holding actually [gasp!] meant that I have learned something in grad school.

Anyway, I digress. What I have learned is that writing academic papers is really hard. It is amazing that I have been working on this paper for six months, not including the initial analysis and conference submission, and yet cannot find a way to frame the paper to be "interesting" in the sense that anyone except for me and maybe four or five colleagues would want to read it. I have thought out how to frame it, written a draft, read a few more articles and, suddenly, I feel like I should re-write the whole thing. This is depressing because I chose this paper, which is sort of equivalent to my master's thesis, because it was "contained" — by which, I mean that I wouldn't have to learn about a whole slew of new methods, techniques and literature to be able to write it. Unfortunately, I was sadly awakened to the fact that the life of academia is not one of idle comfort writing whatever thoughts come into one's head so that one can then indoctrinate poor unsuspecting students into believing those thoughts all the while pulling in a many-digit salary at the expense of the public taxpayer, student tuition money or federal subsidies.

No, I am learning that being an academic is hard work, with many revisions of thought, changes in perspective, distilling (and recoding) of data, writing and re-writing, waiting to see if others find it worthy, more writing and re-writing, revisions of thought, arguing about why reviewers' thoughts are off-base, waiting some more to find out if some editor deems a single thirty-page article worthy of her or his press' ink. Who knew it was so hard?

[UPDATE]: Now Microsoft Word has conveniently deleted all of the pending changes that I had made. Wonderful...