When School is a Factory

For 20 years, I have been teaching large arts and humanities general education courses at the University of California, Irvine. These 400-student classes are part of the undergraduate “breadth requirements” common in most colleges and universities, and hence draw enrollments from across the academic disciplines. At UC Irvine, this means that most of the class comprises science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors. Aside from an orientation to more practical fields, I’ve noticed a clear shift in student attitudes in recent years –– a heightened preoccupation with grades and rankings, combined with growing anxieties about future earnings. Many of my colleagues see this as well, often disparaging students more concerned with GPA metrics than learning itself, while increasingly behaving more like consumers of educational commodities. I take a more sanguine view.

Bear in mind that many of today’s college students grew up during the Great Recession, when families of all incomes had money worries. With scant knowledge of a world before 9/11, it’s little wonder that polls show millennials expecting lower earnings than their parents, seeing the United States on a downward spiral, and believing the two-party system as fatally flawed.[i] Rising income inequality doesn’t help matters, especially at UC Irvine where 6 in 10 students get financial aid and half are the first in their families earning a college degree.[ii] Because of this, Irvine has been cited by the New York Times as the country’s leading “upward mobility engine” –– making the campus a national model of what public higher education can do.[iii] But it’s still not a cake-walk for degree seekers. As at most public universities in America, the majority of Irvine’s full-time students also work at jobs to make ends meet.[iv]

Higher education translates into higher wages.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, people with four-year degrees earn roughly twice that of high school graduates.[v]  Given these financial pressures, it’s no surprise that college education is seen as a commodity. Almost all of the students I encounter are serious, hardworking, and focused. They want rational outcomes, high grades, and clear metrics.  Most of all, they are driven to succeed –– in a nation where struggle is expected and competition has been called the “state religion.” In the minds of many there is a Darwinian inevitability to contest in life, so much so that it is often seen as a natural instinct. This is manifest in a culture valorizing personal achievement, aggression, and America First –– values reinforced in the ideologies of business, entertainment, celebrity, sports, and militarism. 

But educators have long observed that competition can be dangerous when pushed too far –– for the simple reason that a system producing “winners” always yields a larger pool of “losers.” Alfie Kohn wrote in his book No Contest: The Case Against Competition (Why We Lose our Race to Win) that Americans are caught in a vicious circle in which individual anxieties and structural conditions reinforce each other. Children are conditioned for a world of presumed scarcity, based on the following contradictory ontology: “If I must defeat you in order to get what I want, then what I want must be scarce,” Kohn stated, explaining that when “competition sets itself as the goal, which is to win, scarcity is therefore created out of nothing.”[vi]  

Kohn argues that the real lesson instilled by competition is personal inadequacy. Wins tend to be short-lived moments of self-satisfaction derived from external evaluation, implying that one’s character rises in proportion to number of those beaten. The transitory character of such winning means that any gain is fragile and contingent on the outcome of the next contest, setting off a repeating cycle, until one ultimately fails. The external character of the evaluation also can make young people feel they are not in control of happens to them, as researcher Carole Ames has noted. Ironically, the very sense of autonomy that competition purports to instill is diminished by the anxieties that go along with it.  Feelings of agency can become weakened even among successful students, but it takes a greater toll on those who fail. This tends to produce lower achievement in both groups, along with a plethora of esteem-related problems.[vii]

Internalized competition is but one side of the equation. For the better part of a decade, professors and students alike have bemoaned the growing “corporatization” of universities, as bottom line administrative thinking has encroached on high-minded idealism. Complaints have come from across the U.S. about skyrocketing tuitions, huge lecture courses, and growing numbers of low-wage occasional lecturers. Exacerbated by recessionary belt-tightening, a new philosophy taken over higher education––with numbers and budgets increasingly driving curriculum and research priorities. Humanities departments shrink as business programs grow, partly in response to student career worries. All of this has paralleled a continuing movement toward “accountability” in public education––with K-12 teachers finding themselves obliged to “teach-to-the-test” or risk losing their jobs. Competition for grades in science and math has superseded such “frills” as art education for most of the nation’s kids. 

“When Universities Try to Behave like Business, Education Suffers,” read a recent headline in the Los Angeles Times.[viii] “For most of U.S. history, it was understood that universities, whether public or private, operated under a model distinct from business,” the paper reported. But a shift took place in the 1980s and 1990s, as American culture became enthralled with marketplace values. “Until then, the private sector wasn’t the model for the public sector,” the Times reported, adding, “Now the prestige of the private sectors requires imitation by the private sectors.”  Students seem to be losing out in this new environment. “They’re not only saddled with an increasing share of the direct costs of their education,” the Times stated, “but are offered a narrower curriculum as universities cut back on supposedly unprofitable humanities and social science courses in favor of science, engineering and technology programs expected to attract profitable grants and the prospects of great riches from patentable inventions.”

The effect of corporatization on academic labor has been devastating. In 1975, over 70 percent of instruction was done by full-time professors –– experts in their fields and committed to careers as professors. Today that ratio has reversed –– with 70 percent of teaching delivered by adjunct faculty (non-tenure track) –– with minimal experience, no job security, and often less commitment to the institution itself. Most adjunct instructors work multiple jobs to subsist –– with over 50 percent earning less than $35,000 per year and 80 percent getting no health insurance.[ix] Universities increasingly see adjunct teaching as a less valued enterprise than the highly compensated “research” mission of full-time faculty.  This isn’t just bad news for job-hungry young PhDs and MFAs. A recent study from the University of Southern California has shown that “students who take more classes from contingent faculty have lower graduation rates and are less likely to transfer” from two-year to four-year institutions.[x] Forbes Magazine similarly reported that, “such faculty are less student-centered in their teaching, have less contact with students outside of class, and spend less time preparing for classes.”[xi]

Instructional declines and labor abuses are but a few symptoms of university corporatization. And this problematic trend is hardly a secret. Recently, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) –– the nation’s largest organization of college educators –– published an analysis of the shift from higher education as a “public investment” to the rising “private enterprise” model. “These changes reflect the neoliberal faith that free markets would restore productivity,” the document stated.[xii]  But the AAUP asserts that privatization has had the opposite effect. With rising costs and narrowing academic options, colleges and universities have seen a steady decline in student applications –– even though the overall population of high school graduates has grown. Pressures to avoid debt and to begin earning are some of the reasons, with low-income students attending traditional colleges at 10 percent lower rates than a decade ago.[xiii]

Concerns about corporatized higher education go back a century, evidenced in Thorstein Veblen’s 1917 The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men. Even then, professors across country worried about eroding educational values and a tightening of bureaucratic management.  Veblen saw universities losing their status as a protected preserves for “the cultivation and care of the community’s highest aspirations and ideals,” operating in the “apprehension of what is right and good,” and “controlled by no consideration of expediency beyond its own work.” With an eerie prescience, Veblen warned of the incursion of a rising business rationality in which “the men of affairs have taken over the direction of the pursuit of knowledge” while effecting a “surveillance of the academic work exercised through control of the budget.” [xiv]  

Corporatization intensified with the creative destruction of the 1970s and 1980s. No less a publication than Time Magazine expressed concern over this in a feature entitled “How Universities Turned into Corporations.” Time described this as a period when “policymakers began to view higher education more as a private good (benefiting individual students) then as a public good (helping the nation prosper by creating better educated citizens).” [xv] Others would join in noting the social consequences of this shift. In his well-known 1977 Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, Paul Willis documented how education came to reproduce class stratification rather than equalization. Examining vocational “tracking” in Britain, Learning to Labour drew comparisons between school and the workplace, likening teachers to job supervisors who paid students with grades rather than money. “There is no obvious physical coercion” in such a disciplinary model, but rather what appears to be a “degree of self-direction,” Willis wrote.[xvi] Not that the students were oblivious to any of this, with many opting to push back. One of Learning to Labour’s key insights was its documentation of what later would be termed student “resistance,” often manifest in oppositional attitudes, disengagement, and even intentional failure at school.

For his book School is a Factory, Alan Sekula went into California community colleges, interviewing and photographing students in vocational training programs. Accompanying one set of images, Sekula wrote:

Three welding students pose for a portrait. They hope to graduate into jobs with metal fabrication shops in the area. Their instructors act like bosses, supervising the action from a glassed-in office. This apprenticeship program, like public education on generally, is supported by taxes that fall heavily on working people and only lightly on corporations. Spared the cost of on-the-job training, local industry profits from the arrangement. Social planners also like the idea that vocational courses keep unemployed young people off the streets and dampen discontent.[xvii]

As a former Creative Arts dean at one of California’s leading community colleges, I don’t mind admitting that what Sekula wrote certainly is partly true. But such public two-year schools also serve other purposes. For many low-income students, community colleges offer a viable entry-point into higher education, especially if they intend later transfer to a four-year school –– which four in ten of students indeed do. The problem is with the remaining 60 percent –– often underprepared by prior schooling and not able to afford further study even at state-funded universities –– who see vocational programs or immediate work as their only options. [xviii]  

The educational stakes are only rising in today’s “knowledge economy” –– an expression referencing both the decline in traditional manufacturing jobs and the rising role of expertise in a competitive job market. As with any highly-desired consumer product, laws of supply-and-demand are putting new pressures on knowledge and pushing prices up. A recent report from the Council of State Governments entitled “America’s Knowledge Economy,” urgently warned public officials that “short-term” tendencies to reduce education funding only cripple “long-term” economic growth and prosperity.[xix] The business press is beginning to voice similar concerns. “Education costs have soared over the past few decades leaving many potential students out in the cold,” stated Forbes Magazine. [xx]Citing statics from the College Board, Forbes reported that costs of higher education have risen an average of 5.2 percent every year since 1994 –– or more than double the rate of inflation.  Annual tuition and fees for in-state students at a public university now stands at $39,508, with out-of-state students paying $97,690, By comparison, private universities cost an average of $135,010. Add the costs of housing, books, and supplies and the price tag is even higher.

Student debt has become the new normal –– in keeping with changing attitudes toward credit itself. Generations ago, the idea of being in debt or “falling behind with bills” was seen as a moral or social ill. But things have changed with the rise of consumer credit and the aggressive marketing of companies like Visa and MasterCard. Breaking national records every year for the past two decades, total indebtedness for higher education now stands at $1.31 trillion. Outstanding loans have more than doubled since 2009 according to Bloomberg News, observing that, “No form of household debt has increased by as much since then.”[xxi] And the toll of the loans is terrifying––with one quarter of those owing now in default or at least 90 days late on their required payments. Making matters worse, student loans have been excluded from bankruptcy protection since 1998 –– thus condemning the current generation to a lifelong obligation unknown to their parents. Obama administration financial experts worried about the long term consequences of this, predicting that the loans could soon slow the U.S. economy. Even President Trump has likened the debt to an “anchor” holding down young Americans –– although his administration continues cutting federal programs to help student borrowers. Low-income students suffer the most –– as they enter the workforce with less freedom to choose employment and more pressure to look for the biggest paycheck. 

As schools have gotten costlier, pressures have grown to get the best value. Last year, UCLA broke national records for undergraduate applications, with over 124,000 students seeking admission for a freshman class of 9,200 –– translating to a 7.2 % rate. Similar (but less extreme) patterns are occurring across the country, pushing selectivity at prestigious public universities closer to Ivy league schools like Cornell (12.5% acceptance rate), Dartmouth (10.4%), and Yale (6.9%).[xxii] Students begin shopping for colleges as early as junior high, while struggling to optimize their chances through advanced classes and extracurricular activities. Nearly 50 percent of students see a high school counselor due to stress over this, according the American Psychological Association.[xxiii] “Burn-out before college” is a rising phenomenon. 

Meanwhile, business has boomed for SAT and ACT prep courses –– much to the consternation of testing services.   College Board President David Coleman thinks companies that offer SAT prep services are “predators who prey on the anxieties of parents and children and provide no real educational benefit.”[xxiv] Education experts have long argued that test prep providers exist not only because such high-stakes testing has failed students and colleges. They say the SAT and ACT provide poor measures of real academic achievement ––and actually indicate nothing more clearly than family income. The two largest prep course providers, Kaplan and Princeton Review, charge $699 for a basic course, although some families pay as much as $1,000 per hour for private tutors or free-lance college admission consultants. All of this has further stratified the college admissions process, while piling on costs before students even leave home.

In a relatively recent shift, students unsuccessful in the application process increasingly now choose for-profit colleges or vocational training programs, which, at least in theory, extend democratic access to education with enrollment limited only by one’s willingness to pay. Nationwide chains like Heald College, Devry University, and University of Phoenix promote themselves as guaranteed career pathways, often appealing to students hungry for jobs as office assistants or technical workers. According to U.S. News & World Report, such schools account for 42 percent of postsecondary enrollment growth in the past decade, despite two huge drawbacks: “For-profits are expensive,” costing and average $15,130 per year as opposed to $3,264 at community colleges and $8,893 at four-year public state colleges. “For-profit graduates struggle to find employment,” finding work at 22 percent less than conventional colleges, and they default on loans at higher rates due the combination of greater borrowing and lower employment. [xxv] Also, these commercialized colleges market themselves heavily to vulnerable populations, particularly the economically disadvantaged. Veterans with government education stipends also are targeted frequently. At the height of their popularity in 2010, for-profits gobbled up one quarter of federal financial aid –– for a total of $32-billion.[xxvi]

The predatory practices of for-profits now seem to be backfiring. In recent years, investigations by the federal officials and States Attorneys Generals have revealed unscrupulous business practices by for-profit colleges (particularly those that are run by large, publicly-traded companies), for what the National Association for College Admissions and Counselling calls “deceptive, aggressive and manipulative tactics to enroll as many students as possible, without regard for their potential for success or ability to afford tuition, in an effort to maximize profits.”[xxvii] In 2015, three of the nation’s largest for-profit chains –– Career Education Corporation, Education Management Corporation, and Corinthian Colleges –– announced the shut downs of dozens of campuses, as the University of Phoenix reported a 50 percent drop in enrollments.[xxviii] The following year, for-profit giant ITT Technical closed all of its 137 schools in 39 states following federal charges of fraud related to student recruitment, enrollment, dropout rates, grade inflation, loans, and reported job placement.[xxix]

Put all of this together and it’s easy to see why my UC Irvine students are a little on edge. College degrees are now more expensive, competitive, and keyed to earnings than at any point in American history –– so much so that many young people are buckling under the pressure. Universities seem unable to do very much to help because they themselves are a big part of the problem. Hence, amid an ever-tightening web of “financialized subjectivity,” the current generation finds itself bound by the logic of capital within the very institutions of higher education that might be instilling values of humanistic wisdom and unbounded inquiry. Neoliberal culture promises them freedom and upward mobility, while supplanting other ways of looking at knowledge, work, or life itself. None of this bodes well for the current generation of college age young people, much less the climate of experiment, risk-taking, and “creativity” so vital to innovation and new ideas.

[i] Samantha Smith, “Millennials less confident about nations’ future, but so were their parents, grandparents when young,” Pew Research Center(Feb. 16, 2016) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/16/millennials-less-confident-about-nations-future-but-so-were-their-parents-grandparents-when-young/ (accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[ii] “UC Irvine Praised for Student support,” Orange County Register (Mar. 29, 2016) http://www.ocregister.com/articles/students-709861-uci-schools.html (accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[iii] David Leonard, “California’s Upward Mobility machine,” New York Times (Sep. 16, 2015) https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/upshot/californias-university-system-an-upward-mobility-machine.html  (accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[iv] Stacy Rapcon, “More college students are working while studying,” CNBC.com (Oct. 29, 2015) http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/29/more-college-students-are-working-while-studying.html (accessed Apr. 5, 2017)

[v] “How Much More of College Graduates Earn than Non-College Graduates?” Study.com (2017) http://study.com/articles/How_Much_More_Do_College_Graduates_Earn_Than_Non-College_Graduates.html (Accessed Apr. 5, 2017).

[vi] Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition (Why We Lose our Race to Win) (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1986) p. 4.

[vii] Carole Ames, “Children’s Achievement Attributions and Self-Reinforcement: Effects of Self-Concept and Competitive Reward Structure,”Journal of Educational Psychology 70 (1978).

[viii] Michael Hiltzik, “When universities try to behave like business, education suffers,” Los Angeles Times, Jun. 3, 2016) http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-university-business-20160602-snap-story.html (accessed Apr. 14, 2017).

[ix] Dan Edmunds, “Nearly three-quarters of American professors are contingent faculty. That’s a problem for students,” Forbes Magazine (May 28, 2015) https://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/#6efb36f41600 (accessed Apr. 13, 2017).

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] David Schultz, “The Rise and Coming Demise of the Corporate University,” AAUP (Sep. 15, 2016) https://www.aaup.org/article/rise-and-coming-demise-corporate-university#.V89ErWVltlo (accessed Sep. 6, 2016).

[xiii] Alai Wong, “Where are All the High-School Grads Going” The Atlantic (Jan. 11, 2016) http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/where-are-all-the-high-school-grads-going/423285/  (accessed Sep. 5, 2016).

[xiv] Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men (1917) (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2015) pp. 75, 88.

[xv] Andrew Rossi, “How American Universities Turned into Corporations,” Time (May 21, 2014) http://time.com/108311/how-american-universities-are-ripping-off-your-education/ (accessed Apr. 18, 2017).

[xvi] Paul Willis, Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (New York; Columbia, 1977) p. 1.

[xvii] Alan Sekula, School is a Factory (Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, 1983) p. 2013.

[xviii] Grace Chen, “Will Community College Tuition Increases Outpace Inflation Rates?” Community College Review (Aug. 26, 2016) https://www.communitycollegereview.com/blog/will-community-college-tuition-increases-outpace-inflation-rates (accessed Apr. 6, 2017). 

[xix] “America’s Knowledge Economy: A State-by-State Review,” Council of State Governments  (2017) http://www.csg.org/programs/knowledgeeconomy/Elsevier_Report_2015.pdf (accessed Apr. 14, 2017).

[xx] Mike Patton, “The Cost of College: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” Forbes Magazine (Nov. 19, 2015) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2015/11/19/the-cost-of-college-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow/#51708786060c (accessed Apr. 9, 2017).

[xxi] Shaien Nasirpour, “President Trump has called student debt an ‘anchor’ weighting down young Americans.” Bloomberg News (Feb. 17, 2017) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-17/student-debt-in-america-has-hit-a-new-record (accessed Apr. 9. 2017).

[xxii] Abby Jackson, “Ivy League admission letters just went out––here are the acceptance rates for the class of 2021,” Business Insider (Apr. 1, 2018) http://www.businessinsider.com/ivy-league-harvard-yale-princeton-acceptance-rates-class-of-2021-2017-3  (accessed Apr. 22, 2018).

[xxiii] Samantha Olsen, “High School Students Are Stressed Out about College: the Reality of Burning Out Before College,
 Medical Daily (Aug. 12, 2015) http://www.medicaldaily.com/high-school-students-are-stressed-out-about-college-admissions-reality-burning-out-347476 (accessed Apr. 22, 2017).

[xxiv] James S. Murphy, “The SAT-Prep Industry Isn’t Going Anywhere,” The Atlantic (Mar. 4, 2014) https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/03/the-sat-prep-industry-isnt-going-anywhere/284430/ (accessed Apr. 9, 2017).

[xxv] Susannah Snider, “3 Must-Know Facts About For-Profit Colleges, Student Debt,” U.S. News & World Report (Oct. 1, 2014) http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2014/10/01/3-facts-for-students-to-know-about-for-profit-colleges-and-student-debt (accessed Sep. 6, 2016).

[xxvi] Patricia Cohen, “ITT Educational Services Closes Campuses,” New York Times (Sep. 6, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/07/business/itt-educational-services-closes-its-campuses.html?_r=0 (accessed Sept. 8, 2016).

[xxvii] “For-Profit Colleges, National Association for College Admissions and Counseling (2015) http://www.nacacnet.org/issues-action/LegislativeNews/Pages/For-Profit-Colleges.aspx (accessed Sep. 5, 2016)

[xxviii] Paul Fain, “Vanishing Profit, and Campuses,” Inside Higher Education (May 7, 2015) https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/05/07/profit-chains-announce-new-wave-closures-and-sell-offs (accessed Sept. 7, 2016).

[xxix] “ITT Educational Services Closes Campuses.”

Anxious Creativity: When Imagination Fails

Just released: Creativity is getting new attention in today’s America –– along the way revealing fault lines in U.S. culture. Surveys show people overwhelming seeing creativity as both a desirable trait and a work enhancement, yet most say they just aren’t creative.

Like beauty and wealth, creativity seems universally desired but insufficiently possessed. Businesses likewise see innovation as essential to productivity and growth, but can’t bring themselves to risk new ideas. Even as one’s “inner artist” is hyped by a booming self-help industry, creative education dwindles in U.S. schools.

 Anxious Creativity: When Imagination Fails examines this conceptual mess, while focusing on how America’s current edginess dampens creativity in everyone. Written in an engaging and accessible style, Anxious Creativity draws on current ideas in the social sciences, economics, and the arts. Discussion centers on the knotty problem of reconciling the expressive potential in all people with the nation’s tendency to reward only a few. Fortunately, there is some good news, as scientists, economists, and creative professionals have begun advocating new ways of sharing and collaboration. Building on these prospects, the book argues that America’s innovation crisis demands a rethinking of individualism, competition, and the ways creativity is rewarded.

Available from all major booksellers. More info at: https://www.routledge.com/Anxious-Creativity-When-Imagination-Fails-1st-Edition/Trend/p/book/9780367275068

Elsewhere in America

Elsewhere in America: The Crisis of Belonging in Contemporary Culture by David Trend (Routledge: 2016)

The book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves.  Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. 


The book argues that even in the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion (“belonging”) in the U.S.  After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).

For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Elsewhere-in-America-The-Crisis-of-Belonging-in-Contemporary-Culture/Trend/p/book/9781138654440

Fighting tenure for school teachers

David Boies, the star trial lawyer who helped lead the legal charge that overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban, is becoming chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown founded in part to pursue lawsuits challenging teacher tenure. As the New York Times reports:

“Mr. Boies, the son of two public schoolteachers, is a lifelong liberal who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and prosecuted Microsoft in the Clinton Administration’s antitrust suit. In aligning himself with a cause that is bitterly opposed by teachers’ unions, he is emblematic of an increasingly fractured relationship between the Democrats and the teachers’ unions.

“Aimages-2s chairman of the new group, Mr. Boies, 73, will join Ms. Brown as the public face of a legal strategy in which the group organizes parents and students to bring lawsuits against states with strong tenure and seniority protections. In a suit filed in New York last month, plaintiffs supported by Ms. Brown’s group argued that tenure laws make it too difficult to fire ineffective teachers and force principals to make personnel decisions based on seniority rather than performance. The suit argues that such laws disproportionately harm low-income and minority students.A California judge recently ruled in a similar case that teacher tenure laws violate students’ civil rights under the state’s constitution. The group that brought that case, known as Vergara v. California, said it would be pursuing similar litigation elsewhere as well. In a sign of the legal firepower attracted to the cause, Theodore B. Olson, Mr. Boies’ partner in the California same-sex marriage case, has been advising the Vergara plaintiffs.In an interview in his firm’s offices in Manhattan, Mr. Boies said he viewed the cause of tenure overhaul as “pro-teacher.”

“I think teaching is one of the most important professions that we have in this country,” he said. But, he added, “there can be a tension” between union efforts to protect workers and “what society needs to do, which is to make sure that the social function — in this case teaching — is being fulfilled.” Mr. Boies, who said he viewed education as a civil rights issue, is offering his services pro bono. Continue reading “Fighting tenure for school teachers”

The Twitter and Google boy’s clubs

From PC Magazine: “Twitter’s global workforce is about as diverse as those of its big-name peers in the tech biz, which is to say, not very diverse at all. The microblogging site, following the lead of companies like Google and Yahoo, on Wednesday released some raw numbers about the gender and ethnic makeup of its roughly 3,000 employees. As with those companies, it turns out that Twitter’s workforce skews very heavily male and white.

“To wit, Twitter’s workforce is 70 percent male and 30 percent female. That disparity grows even more pronounced in tech-related jobs at the company, which are held by nine times as many men as women, while leadership roles at Twitter come in at 79 percent for men and 21 percent for women.

images“Google, which released its own diversity data in May, reported the same 70-to-30 ratio of men to women among its own roughly 52,000-strong workforce. Yahoo reported last month that the gender diversity among its more than 12,000 employees also skews male but not as much—the company’s worldwide workforce is 62 percent men and 37 percent women. Facebook also recently released a breakdown of gender and ethnic diversity in its workforce, reporting similar numbers to Twitter, Google, and Yahoo.

“If gender disparities at Twitter and other Silicon Valley companies are striking, the lack of ethnic diversity at those outfits is just as pronounced, if not more so, going by the self-reported numbers.
Before Twitter joined the party, both Google and Yahoo reported that their workforces were predominantly white and Asian— 91 percent at Google (61 percent white, 30 percent Asian) and 89 percent at Yahoo (50 percent white, 39 percent Asian). African-Americans and Latinos combined to make up just 5 percent of the employees at Google and just 6 percent at Yahoo.
Twitter’s workforce came in at 59 percent white and 29 percent Asian, with African-Americans, Latinos, and people with other ethnicities representing just a fraction of those numbers.

“The current numbers may be stark, but Twitter, like Google and Yahoo before it, pledged to work to better diversify its workforce going forward.”[R]esearch shows that more diverse teams make better decisions, and companies with women in leadership roles produce better financial results. But we want to be more than a good business; we want to be a business that we are proud of,” Janet Van Huysse, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at Twitter, wrote in a blog post.
“To that end, we are joining some peer companies by sharing our ethnic and gender diversity data. And like our peers, we have a lot of work to do.”Van Huysse didn’t lay out any specific plans for enacting more diverse hiring at Twitter but did list some “employee-led groups putting a ton of effort into the cause” at the company. These include affinity groups like WomEng (women in engineering), SWAT (super women at Twitter), TwUX (Twitter women in design), Blackbird (Tweeps of color), TwitterOpen (LGBTQ folks), and Alas (Latino and Latina employees), she said.”


More at: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2461300,00.asp

Guns and dementia

From WebMD: “A new survey looks at access to guns by people with dementia.It finds that caregivers and family members of people being checked for problems with thinking didn’t consistently remove guns from their homes or keep them locked up.The study underlines the need for doctors to ask caregivers if they have guns in the home and, if so, advise them on safety measures to take, the researchers say.In the United States, there is “a significant presence of firearms in the homes of patients with dementia, and many of these patients suffer from delusions and hallucinations, some of which can be paranoid, persecutory, or hostile,” says Jason Hsieh, a medical student at Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine.The results were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2014.

images-1“In the U.S., 27% percent of people over the age of 65 own a firearm, Hsieh says. “In general, almost 40% of households in the U.S. contain a firearm, and surprisingly, in households with a firearm, the average number of firearms is 6.6,” he says.The elderly have the highest suicide rate of any part of the population, and firearms are the most common, as well as the most fatal, method of suicide. Data from the National Trauma Databank show that as people get older, the proportion of gun injuries that are self-inflicted rises. Other data show that as they age, people are less likely to survive a gunshot and less likely to return home after recovery.

“In addition to suicide, elderly individuals can be the victim of homicide, and this often happens from their caregiver,” Hsieh says. “Most of these events happen at home, and again, just like suicide, using a firearm is the most common method.”Also, it’s been shown that caregivers, families, and loved ones with dementia often don’t remove guns from the home as the dementia gets worse, he sayThe concern comes from the fact that people with dementia more frequently behave aggressively than those without it. Increasing dementia is linked with worsening agitation and aggression, along with delusions – particularly, mistaking a person for someone else, he says.Included in this analysis were 495 people, with an average age of nearly 80. Most of the patients were women (63%).Of the group, 378 (77%) qualified for a diagnosis of dementia, and 64% were already diagnosed with depression or qualified as depressed, the researchers say. Continue reading “Guns and dementia”

Harassment in the sciences

Most women working in the sciences face sexual assault and harassment while conducting field work, according to a study released Wednesday that is the first to investigate the subject, MotherJones reports:

“The report surveyed 516 women (and 142 men) working in various scientific fields, including archeology, anthropology, and biology. Sixty-four percent of the women said they had been sexually harassed while working
at field sites, and one out of five said they had been victims of sexual assault. The study found that the harassers and assailants were usually supervisors. Ninety percent of the women who were harassed were young undergraduates, post-graduates, or post-doctoral students.

imgres“Our main findings…suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive,” Kate Clancy, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science.” Many university science programs require students to complete fieldwork. Those who do work in the field are more likely to receive research grants. Consequently, women scientists “are put in a vulnerable position, afraid that reporting harassment or abuse will risk their research and a professional relationship often critical to their academic funding or career,” the Washington Post noted.

“The study comes as Congress investigates the response of US colleges to campus sexual harassment and assault. Two out of five colleges and universities have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, according to arecent survey by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

“Men vastly outnumber women in the sciences. According to Census data, women make up only about a quarter of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math fields.”

On accessible playgrounds

From the New York Times: “The first time I buckled Ruth in a swing she was 18 months old, but looked younger from the emaciating effects of cerebral palsy.Born in Uganda and quickly abandoned, she had spent much of her first year in an orphanage, which sent her to Maine for six months of physical therapy. Friends signed up to host her.

“My husband, Dana, and I were interested in adoption and received permission to take Ruth on weekends to see what caring for her was like. That’s how we found ourselves standing under a canopy of backyard trees, buckling Ruth into a red, plastic baby swing.


Unable to sit, crawl or even lift her head, Ruth shrieked as she soared through the air, her patent-leather baby shoes shivering the low-hanging leaves. I imagine she felt free of her captive body for the first time. A decade after that cool October morning, I’ve never heard a sound so joyful. We officially welcomed Ruth into our family of three young children in the winter of 2005. Over the years, swinging remained among Ruth’s favorite activities — along with whizzing down the slide at our local playground. But as she grew, it became increasingly difficult to find play areas designed with equipment Ruth could use. Continue reading “On accessible playgrounds”

Seniors like how they look

From Gallup.org: “Though many may pine for the physical appearance they had in their younger years, America’s seniors are the most confident in their looks. Two-thirds (66%) of Americans aged 65 and older “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they always feel good about their physical appearance, compared with 61% of 18- to 34-year-olds. Middle-aged Americans (54%) are the least likely to report feeling good about their appearance.images-1

“For both men and women, confidence in their physical appearance is lower in middle age than in young adulthood, yet gets higher during their senior years.

“At nearly every age level, men are more likely than women to feel good about their appearance, though this margin narrows among older age groups. More than two in three men aged 18-24 (69%) say they feel good about their physical appearance, compared with the 57% of women in the same age group — a 12-percentage-point gap. But by retirement age, the gap shrinks to a four-point difference: 64% of men feel good about their looks compared with 60% of women.

“This analysis is based on more than 80,000 interviews with U.S. adults from Jan. 1-June 23, 2014, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Specifically, Americans are asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, “I always feel good about my physical appearance,” on a five-point scale where five means strongly agree and one means strongly disagree. Overall, more than half of Americans, 58%, agreed that they always feel good about their looks, answering with a four or five. Far fewer disagreed that they always feel good about their appearance, with 15% answering with a one or two. About one in four Americans (27%) neither agreed nor disagreed, responding with a three. Continue reading “Seniors like how they look”

Untraceable money

From today’s Wired Magazine: Amir Taaki and his collaborators recently unveiled a prototype for a decentralized online marketplace, known as DarkMarket, that’s designed to be impervious to shutdown by the feds.images-1

The programming provocation they released a few hours ago is called Dark Wallet, a piece of software designed to allow untraceable, anonymous online payments using the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Taaki and Wilson see in bitcoin’s stateless transactions the potential for a new economy that fulfills the crypto-anarchist dream of truly uncontrollable money. They envision a digital payment network that circumvents every authority’s attempts to tax it, seize it, censor it, track it, or imprison those who would use it to trade in contraband like weapons, drugs, and even abhorrent services like murder-for-hire and child pornography.

And yet for all that, Dark Wallet isn’t necessarily illegal. Taaki and Wilson, who spent two years in law school before dropping out to pursue his anarchist dreams, argue their creation is just a piece of code and thus protected by free speech laws. Then again, Wilson also has described it publicly as “money-laundering software.” The evening before, he received an unhappy email from his lawyer friend, cautioning him about expressing criminal intent in an interview with me that was published two days earlier. Wilson’s half of the ensuing phone conversation went like this: “How can we cower now? We’re the people who do things and tell them to put up or shut up … [pause] … I guess you’d rather I go back to running guns? … [pause] … OK, I’ll talk to you later.”

Hence the unplanned road trip. The drive through the empty Texas landscape gives me a chance to ask the looming question: How will the world change if Taaki and Wilson succeed in their quest to make money truly anonymous? “There’s going to be a bit of a shake-up,” says Taaki, who speaks with a British accent that borders on cockney. “No one knows how it’s going to turn out.”

He pauses. “The assassination markets are going to be a bit shit.” Untraceable murder-for-hire, in other words, could be an unfortunate side effect of their financial innovation.

Then he seems to regain his resolve. “I believe in the hacker ethic. Empower the small guy, privacy and anonymity, mistrust authority, promote decentralized alternatives, freedom of information,” he says. “These are good principles. The individual against power.”

Warming to his subject, Taaki raises his voice as if he’s speaking to a crowd larger than the three of us here in the car. “But it’s important to be clear that it may not be good on balance, either,” he says. “The world is not perfect. Good and evil rise together.”

Wilson cuts in from the driver’s seat, shifting into agitprop mode. “It’s time for a good old-fashioned pendulum swing,” he says. “Where the people fear the government there’s tyranny. Where the government fears the people there’s liberty. They’re afraid, therefore it’s good.”

But Taaki seems willing to contemplate a more uncertain outcome of the anarchy he and Wilson seek to create.

“It will be different, more diverse,” he muses, as if imagining this new reality for the first time. “We’ll step out into a new world, and we can explore it in any direction we choose.”

The 21st century has already seen its first experiment in crypto-anarchy: the billion-dollar, anonymous online drug marketplace known as Silk Road. In October 2013, the FBI seized the well-hidden server that hosted the site on the anonymity network Tor. The agency also arrested its alleged founder, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, calling his work a vast narcotics and money-laundering conspiracy.

Cody Wilson would call it a mere proof of concept.

In a packed bar on East London’s Brick Lane two months after the Silk Road crackdown, Wilson stood onstage—inexplicably wearing a single leather glove—and scolded the audience of the London Bitcoin Expo: “Ross Ulbricht is alleged to be the founder and operator of Silk Road, the glittering jewel of all things libertarian, black market, and wonderful. And it’s a severe indictment of the modern libertarian conscience that he can’t get any support at all.” (At the time, just $3,800 dollars had been donated to the fund-raising site created by Ulbricht’s family, FreeRoss.org, well short of their $50,000 goal. That lukewarm response likely had much to do with prosecutors’ claims that Ulbricht had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoins to contacts he believed were hit men who would kill his enemies, including a blackmailer and a potential informant.)

More at: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/inside-dark-wallet/

Continue reading “Untraceable money”

On paying for book publication

At almost any gathering of academic publishers or librarians, you’ll hear someone float the idea—sometimes phrased as a question—that the model for publishing scholarly monographs is broken.

imgres-3As InsideHigherEd reports: “Two sets of ideas aired at the Association of American University Presses’ annual meeting, held here this week, don’t say the model is damaged beyond repair. But the proposals, both from groups outside the university-press community, suggest that it needs to be retrofitted, at the least.

“One possible approach came from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the other from a task force on scholarly communications run jointly by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries. Both raised the question of how to better subsidize the digital publication of scholarly monographs, and both included the notion that faculty authors’ home institutions might do more to help pay for those books to be published. Such support would help deal with what university-press people often call the “free-rider problem,” in which institutions without presses—most of them, in other words—leave it to those with presses to support the system that gives faculty authors publication credentials.

“The AAU/ARL task force describes its plan as a “prospectus for an institutionally funded first-book subvention” that would shift the burden of payment to authors’ home institutions. That would “address the principal causes and effects of the market failure for monographs,” the prospectus says. It envisions that colleges and universities would agree to pay for an openly available “basic digital edition” of some faculty members’ first books; scholarly publishers could offer those titles for sale in other formats too.

“The plan also envisions that universities with a high level of research activity would offer subventions for three or four books a year, with an “annual subvention exposure” of roughly $68,000 to $73,000. Small colleges would pay for one or two books a year, and offer more modest subventions.  Continue reading “On paying for book publication”

Gay parents = happier kids

Children raised by same-sex couples have better health and well-being in comparison to their peers, according to a groundbreaking new study which isbeing billed as the largest of its kind.

Conducted by Australia’s University of Melbourne, the new research aimed to “describe the physical, mental and social well-being” of children with gay and lesbian parents, and “the impact that stigma has on them.” On average, children raised by same-sex couples scored six percent higher than the general population when it came to general health and family cohesion.

Meanwhile, in other categories — such as behavior, mental health and self-esteem — those children reportedly scored the same as those raised by heterosexual parents.

“It appears that same-sex parent families get along well and this has a positive impact on health,” Dr. Simon Crouch from the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program, Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne, told CNBC of the results.

Crouch believes that an emphasis on skills, as opposed to traditional gender roles, accounted for the survey’s results.

“So what this means is that people take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes,” he is quoted as saying. “Whatthis leads to is a more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and wellbeing.”

You can read more about the new research here.

The study comprised input from 500 children and 315 parents who are in same-sex relationships, and seemed mostly in line with previous research. Earlier this year, a Williams Institute report found that children of lesbians reported having higher self-esteem and lower conduct problems than those of heterosexual couples.

A 2012 study, “Adolescents with Lesbian Mothers Describe Their Own Lives,” found that teens with two moms maintained solid high school GPAs while having strong family bonds with their mothers, according to CBS Las Vegas.




Continue reading “Gay parents = happier kids”

Obama to order gender identity protections

President Barack Obama announced Monday that he’s preparing an executive order to ban workplace discrimination against federal employees based on their gender identity, the Huffington Post reports

“The move comes after a 2012 ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the federal ban on sex discrimination covers transgender discrimination. Those affected by that rules change say the government hasn’t been enforcing it and they continue to be discriminated against. Specifically, transgender federal employees have been paying tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket health care costs related to their gender transition.

“Sarah Vestal, a transgender woman in California who works for the Treasury Department, told The Huffington Post in April that an Obama executive order would help because it would show he’s serious about stemming discrimination within the government.

“It would help eliminate the structural discrimination,” Vestal said. “Transgender people in the federal government are pulling their hair out.”

“The president’s announcement comes two weeks after he signaled plans to sign another executive orderbarring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors. He referenced that executive order on Monday, but has yet to say when he’ll sign either of them.

“Obama made his remarks during a White House reception marking June as LGBT Pride Month’.


U.S. schools fail to help disabled

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday focuses his quest to improve classroom performance on the 6.5 million students with disabilities, including many who perform poorly on standardized tests.imgres

As Huffington Post reports, “Duncan, who has spent his years in the Obama administration using accountability measures in existing laws to drive improvements in student performance, on Tuesday joins Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, to announce a new framework for measuring states’ compliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that supports special education and services for children with disabilities. The law originally was known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

“After years of holding states accountable under the law for such things as timely evaluations of students and due process hearings, the Education Department plans to look at results. For the first time, the government will define compliance with the law not just in terms of what states do for students with disabilities, but with how those students perform.

“Focusing on inputs has worked on improving that type of compliance, according to information the Department released Tuesday. For example, in 2006, 84.8 percent of initial evaluations of students with disabilities were completed on time. By 2010, that number had increased to 96.9 percent. At the same time, national average math proficiency hardly budged from 33.2 percent in 2005-2006 to 35.2 percent in 2009-2010 — representing a dip from 38.7 percent in the previous year.

“Basic compliance does not transform students’ lives,” Duncan said on a Tuesday call with reporters. “It’s not enough for a state to be compliant if students can’t read or do math” at sufficient levels by the time they graduate from high school, he added.

“According to this new results-driven accountability framework, states will be responsible for students with disabilities’ participation in state tests, gaps in proficiency between students with disabilities and their peers, and performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, the only national standardized test. This marks the first time the NAEP, which is often described as a low-stakes test, has been used for school accountability. Continue reading “U.S. schools fail to help disabled”

Phone surveillance ruled illegal

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.images-1

As Wired reports, “The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for somethingChristopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

“The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

Your phone sends signals to the nearest cell towers so that the communications network system knows where to route a call should one come in. Many providers collect and store the location of towers a customer connects to at the beginning and end of the call for billing purposes. FBI agents in Davis obtained these records without a search warrant and used them to place the defendant, Quartavious Davis, near the scene of a number of robberies.

Continue reading “Phone surveillance ruled illegal”

Women writers drinking

If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as Olivia Laing did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? images-1As Laing writes in The Guardian, “And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues. Jean Rhys was briefly in Holloway prison for assault; Elizabeth Bishop more than once drank eau de cologne, having exhausted the possibilities of the liquor cabinet. But are their reasons for drinking different? And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer?

“In her 1987 book Practicalities, the French novelist and film-maker Marguerite Duras says many shocking things about what it means to be a woman and a writer. One of her most striking statements is about the difference between male and female drinking – or rather the difference in how the two are perceived. “When a woman drinks,” she writes, “it’s as if an animal were drinking, or a child. Alcoholism is scandalous in a woman, and a female alcoholic is rare, a serious matter. It’s a slur on the divine in our nature.” Ruefully, she adds a personal coda: “I realised the scandal I was creating around me.” Continue reading “Women writers drinking”

Henry A Giroux on neoliberalism

We’re living in a time of extremes: extreme weather conditions, extreme political polarization, and extreme power and income inequality. As TruthOut asks, “How did we get to this point? It certainly didn’t happen overnight. Rather, over the course of the last 30 years, the erosion of social contract the New Deal ushered in has reached a stage such that the United States of America is no longer a democratic republic – or a polity concerned with a shared future.

“Henry A. Giroux, a professor of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada has written extensively on the way in which the political economy has been reconfigured from one that guaranteed citizens a social safety net and promoted paths to a middle class way of life, to a system where a neoliberal oligarchy has accumulated a preponderance of wealth and power that makes democracy impossible, while simultaneously pushing politicians to chloroform the New Deal and Great Society era reforms. The result of this long march to change the fundamental agreement citizens had with their government is a middle and lower class that are compliant, afraid, desperate, and powerless in society- or dispoable. In other words, neoliberal ideologues have squashed democratic movements that use political processes to create a more just and more economically equitable society. Continue reading “Henry A Giroux on neoliberalism”

The truth about violence and mental health

After mass shootings, like the ones these past weeks in Las Vegas, Seattle and Santa Barbara, the national conversation often focuses on imgres-2mental illness. But as TruthOut asks, ” what do we actually know about the connections between mental illness, mass shootings and gun violence overall?

“To separate the facts from the media hype, we talked to Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, and one of the leading researchers on mental health and violence. Swanson talked about the dangers of passing laws in the wake of tragedy ― and which new violence-prevention strategies might actually work.

“Here is a condensed version of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.Mass shootings are relatively rare events that account for only a tiny fraction of American gun deaths each year. But when you look specifically at mass shootings ― how big a factor is mental illness?On the face of it, a mass shooting is the product of a disordered mental process. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist: what normal person would go out and shoot a bunch of strangers?But the risk factors for a mass shooting are shared by a lot of people who aren’t going to do it. If you paint the picture of a young, isolated, delusional young man ― that probably describes thousands of other young men.A 2001 study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as a loner. 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse. 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons. 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind ― which means 3 out of 4 did not. Continue reading “The truth about violence and mental health”

Coke vs obesity

“Coca-Cola is taking on obesity,” read the AP coverage of the company’s new commercial this week, “with an online video showing how [much] fun it could be to burn off the 140 calories in a can of its soda.”

As The Atlantic reports,”The scene puts a covey of Californians around a comically oversized bicycle on Santa Monica beach. imagesThey stationery-cycle in montage for 20 to 30 smiling minutes each (depending on each person’s size and vigor), until they’ve burned the requisite number of calories to coax an aluminum can along a whimsical Rube-Goldberg-type trapeze. The can eventually reaches the big payoff, when a giant disembodied hand bestows to the pedaler Coca-Cola.

“Not everyone thought it looked fun. “They’re showing exactly why you wouldn’t want to drink a Coke,” brand consultant Laura Riessaid, presumably not while biking. “Twenty-three minutes on a bike is not fun for most people.” (23 minutes was the average time required for a 140-pound person—though as Adweek noted, the average 20-year-old man weighs 196 pounds, and the average woman of the same age weighs 166 pounds.)

“It’s also uncomfortably evocative of a lab experiment where hamsters run on a wheel until they are delivered a pellet of, say, opium. But others in the foodie world were less skeptical of the marketing move than they were enraged by it. I probably would have been too, if I were still capable of strong emotions. Continue reading “Coke vs obesity”

What counts as a “school shooting”?

When students are killed, injured, or put in harm’s way on school grounds, when does it “count” as a school shooting? Not all of the time, according to a number of right-wing commentators — and CNN.images-1

ThinkProgress reports that “In a news report published Thursday, CNN amends its prior reporting that there were 74 school shootings since the Newtown Massacre — a number calculated by gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety — and concludes that there have instead been just 15.

“CNN determined that 15 of the incidents Everytown included were situations similar to the violence in Oregon — a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school,” the article explains. Except for the times when those criteria don’t apply: “Some of the other incidents on Everytown’s list included personal arguments, accidents and alleged gang activities and drug deals,” the article explains, apparently nixing Everytown’s bright line criteria that encompassed all incidents “when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts” in exchange for its own subjective assessment.

“Among those incidents not included was a brawl that escalated outside a college basketball game at Chicago State University, a shooting at a Mississippi town’s football game that left a 15-year-old dead, and a Georgia college that saw two shootings in two days. As Everytown points out in response to CNN, these discounted shootings led to 25 deaths and 45 injuries. They included familiar scenes of students hiding under desks and running for cover. And many of them were characterized by CNN as “school shootings” at the time of the incidents. Continue reading “What counts as a “school shooting”?”