Take Off the Gloves

Just a quick note on the blog entries I’ve seen thus far: y’all are agreeing with each other (and me) way too often. Feel freer to disagree. (Civilly, of course.)

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Untaming of the Shrew

Tennis and golf are notoriously stuffy, country club sports that depend on the notion of exclusivity for their appeal. If you don’t believe me, compare the advertisers for televised golf with those for football or baseball. The rules of golf and tennis demand mannerly comportment and emphasize good form instead of emotion, and a love of those rules placed Carlos Ramos at the center of international controversy this weekend.

Ramos, the chair umpire for the U.S. Open tennis final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, issued code violations and costly penalties against Williams. Williams has already drawn the ire of tennis traditionalists everywhere. She grunts as she swings. She wears clothes deemed immodest. She has the gall to question authority. When Ramos issued her a “coaching” violation–in professional tennis, players are not to receive instruction from their coaches during a match–she immediately denied communicating with her coach.

I believe her. Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, later admitted that he was trying to use hand gestures to encourage her to move six inches from the baseline. However, he added that all coaches do it, and that Williams never noticed him. (Incidentally, that’s why I believe Williams’ account. In all my years as a volunteer coach, I have learned that once people step onto the field of play, they ignore coaches. Seriously. Coaches would have an easier time getting a dog to stop drooling when he sees a treat than getting a player to listen during a game.)

Later, Williams smashed a racquet after losing a critical point. This is an obvious code violation, and because it was her second of the match, she was a assessed a one-point penalty. That cost her a game. When she argued with the umpire over the first violation, she was assessed a one-game penalty, which gave her opponent an insurmountable two-game lead.

Williams has since praised her opponent. Naomi Osaka certainly proved herself worthy of a championship, whether Ramos inserted himself into the match or not. But she has also directed her powerful anger at the sexism involved in the way Ramos–and tennis federations everywhere–treated her. As she pointed out to tournament officials during a heated conversation, “Do you know how many other men do things that are — that do much worse than that?” she said to Kelso. “This is not fair. There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, but if they’re men, that doesn’t happen to them.”

She has a point. Within tennis, pay equity and sartorial standards have long been issues. Men also get away with saying far worse things to officials without any reprimand. The chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association has affirmed it. Williams also has belabored under a double standard regarding shows of emotion. When men do it, they’re proud and assertive; women who show emotion tend to be branded as hysterical.

Such issues hold true in other sports. Men regularly get paid more for their athletic achievements in the same sport–and sometimes for their failures. If the perennially under-achieving U.S. men’s national team got paid what the three-time world champion women received, maybe they’d play a little hungrier.

Of course, Williams has been a lightning rod for the sport. She is outspoken, incredibly successful, and usually right.

Posted in Gender Issues | 13 Comments

The New Un-Civility

Most of us with any home training wince when we reflect on the kinds of things Donald Trump has said about women, immigrants, the FBI–about anybody who isn’t Donald Trump, or a current Trump sycophant. Part of the reason some people believe that he is unfit to serve as president lies in his inability to filter out vulgar or impolitic statements and tweets. 

So, by disrupting Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings yesterday, Democrats lost some of the moral high ground they had claimed when it comes to Trump’s lack of well-heeled rhetoric or behavior. Traditionally, nominees to the court bring family members to savor the upside of the nomination before the hearings turn into partisan grillings. Laudatory statements get read. Backs get slapped. The family members leave with proud smiles on their faces.

Yesterday, protestors who embrace progressive causes became so obstreperous that Kavanaugh’s wife and children left. Democrats on the judiciary committee repeatedly interrupted opening statements to ask that the hearing itself be delayed. I may be sympathetic to some of their causes–certainly not all of them!–but I object to their methods. Their behavior yesterday amounts to making rude, symbolic gestures–the equivalent of a “screw you” checkmate in chess, made only to delay an inevitable loss. They do not have the votes to delay the hearings or derail the nomination; those votes will fall on party lines. Furthermore, trying to shout down opponents is hardly the way to win converts. In fact, it’s simply more likely to make compromise (and effective governance) between the parties less tenable.

The seeds of this discontent were planted long ago. Look back at the Bork and Thomas confirmations if you wish–or, more recently, think about the way Republicans refused even to consider an Obama nominee at the end of his presidency. Regardless, the leaders of both parties must express more concern for governance than grandstanding. If Hamilton could bring Jefferson and Madison into the room where the sausage got made and the plans got laid, then today’s leaders ought to be able to do the same.

Posted in Politics, Pop Culture | 8 Comments

Wednesday Classes

Great news: Jack’s surgery was a success. However, we will have to stay overnight, which means that I will not meet with classes tomorrow. Seniors: please turn in your personal narratives on Friday. Shakespeare students: please be ready to discuss through Act III on Friday. UE students: don’t forget to read Cotton Mather for Friday. 

Thursday and Friday classes are likely to feature a brief quiz.

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

Taking Away Your (Library) Card

The City of  Columbus and Lowdnes County have been engaged in an open war for about a year. They’ve squabbled over the language of the restaurant tax, which resulted in significant reduction in the amount of money allocated to the Columbus Visitor’s Bureau. Then they argued over who should pay for the maintenance of the soccer fields, which the county recently agreed to manage. Next, they fought over whether or not the language of tax agreements would reduce the millage devoted to Columbus Public Schools. Now, they’re bickering over whether or not the city is footing its fair share of costs associated with running the library.

In short, you could argue that county leaders believe that the people running the city are guilty of mis-, mal-, or nonfeasance, or that they’re generally incapable, or both. Or you could argue that people in the county merely want their money to be spent in the county. Regardless, the conflicts hurt area residents where they will feel it most painfully and for the longest amount of time: the institutions dedicated to educating and improving the lives of young people.

If people in the county want continued growth and development in the county to continue, starving the city for tax revenues is hardly the wisest policy to pursue in the long term. Conversely, the city needs to be more transparent regarding the wisdom of its stewardship. Both parties are to blame. As with any divorce, the children will suffer the most.

Posted in Books, Education | 7 Comments

Numbers Game

Of the eight million student athletes who play high school sports, about 480,000 will compete in college–a whopping six percent. An even tinier portion of those student athletes will compete in a sport professionally.

Parents go nuts at youth sporting events. They’ll drive their kids six hours for a tournament, spending money at restaurants and hotels along the way, but won’t get out the checkbooks for piano lessons or trips to the museum. Our newspapers frequently dedicate a third of their copy space to sports coverage. Do sports make us happy? Better people? Healthier? Explain the fascination.

Posted in Education, Sports | 18 Comments

Institutions and Success

Stirring the Pot

Towards the end of Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance writes that “We can build policies based on a better understanding of what stands in the way of kids like me. The most important lesson of my life is not that society failed to provide me with opportunities. . . .  [Social welfare programs] are far from perfect, but to the degree that I nearly succumbed to my worst decisions (and I came quite close), the fault lies almost entirely with factors outside the government’s control.”

So that those who haven’t read the book yet will know, Vance grew up primarily under his grandparents’ care because his mother, for large portions of her life, was an unemployable addict. Without Social Security and other government programs, Vance’s hard life would have been much worse.

I’m curious, then: what kind of investment should governments make in the education and well-being of its children, especially those who are poor? If somebody like Vance concludes that personal choices dictate levels of success, then how should we prioritize government spending on educational and health institutions? Vance’s descriptions of his journey to success are compelling, so I am curious about your reactions to the conclusions he draws about government policies.

Posted in Education | 14 Comments

Honey and Vinegar

A dozen years ago, I signed my oldest child up for rec soccer. I also volunteered to coach, and I was stunned to find out that the league required no training for referees, and that it required teams to have offensive players and defensive players. It wasn’t soccer. It was a strange form of kickball. I let the parks and rec people know how wrong they were, sent them examples of other rec leagues’ rules, and suggested we make changes to keep up with them.

In short, I was right.

But I was also insufferable. I managed to alienate an unfortunate number of people who might have been amenable to a better way of doing things if I had remembered that it is never enough to be right. If you can’t convince other people you’re right, you might as well be wrong.

I overheard a conversation in the hallway today in which a conservative student expressed frustration with being mocked for supporting Pres. Trump.

I’m sorry to hear that. It’s one thing to take a classmate to task in a policy debate. It’s another to berate her for being conservative.

Many of those who protest the President’s words and policies are well meaning. They can point to his lapses in judgment, his Supreme Court nominations, his dismantling of the EPA, his potentially treasonous dealings with Russians, his naive dealings with dictators, his inability to appreciate differences in time zones–the list of reasons to be frustrated with Trump is so long that Stephen Colbert will never need to fear unemployment. Those who support the President have just as easy a time ridiculing the left. Consider the idiocracy at Reed College, pampered students who demand trigger warnings, the demonstrable growth in the economy despite the left’s doomsday predictions.

I’m giving you straw men here, of course. My point is this: the left and the right currently talk at each other, rather than with each other. It may feel good to describe the President (or Bernie Sanders) as a mouth-breathing idiot. However, such language only divides groups farther. Effective communication, in most circumstances, should bring us together. (There are historical examples of absolutes being the best way to proceed. I argue they are the exceptions rather than the rule.)

Politics is defined as the art of compromise–which means that each side has to find something to give, and something to give up, when crafting a vision of the future. Those who enter into political discussions should consider what they’re willing to give up before they open their mouths. Otherwise there can be no progress.

Posted in Pop Culture | 25 Comments

Welcome to the blog

(Now here are the rules)

Welcome to the 2018-19 edition of the blog. Before we get started in earnest, let’s go over the ground rules.

Students may earn up to one-third of the total number of quiz points per quarter by participating in the blog. They may not blog more than twice during the last week of the quarter.

Participants must have an MSMS email address. There will be a brief lag between the first post and its appearance, as I will have to approve new users.

Some topics will generate conflict. Disagree civilly. No ad hominems will be allowed. Provide links with evidence or analysis if you’d like to bolster your argument.

Finally, if there are topics you’d like to introduce to the blog, shoot me an email.

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

Eternal Optimism

My friends Deb and Jim Fallows have a new book coming out tomorrow: Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America looks at cities around the country that have rebounded after devastating plant closings and the like. They came to Columbus a few years ago and have dedicated a section of the book to the Golden Triangle. One of the things they have noticed here, and in other cities that try to recover from setbacks, is the way that good leaders find new ways to look at old places.

What do you see in Mississippi that can be re-purposed? Something old that most others would reject, but that could be the foundation for something innovative and wonderful?

Posted in National Politics, Pop Culture | 6 Comments