On Federalism and Sanctuary Cities

If you’ve wondered how sanctuary cities work–and how Pres. Trump’s recent executive orders may affect them–here’s a great breakdown from The Washington Post. The article begs some important questions, among them the degree to which federal law must supersede local law. All Mississippians should know how often that’s the case.


Citizens in sanctuary cities may be sympathetic to the plight of immigrants. Immigration laws are convoluted. Families get torn apart. People who are willing to work for under-the-table wages get exploited. Better laws must be written and passed at the federal level. However, local laws cannot be followed to the exclusion of federal law. When that happens, local prejudices can have terrible effects. I suspect that those protesting Trump’s executive order have their hearts in the right place. But their anger may be more accurately directed towards Congress for having failed to develop reasonable immigration policies than at the White House.

Posted in Politics | 17 Comments

Arts in Mississippi

Legislators in both houses are currently considering a bill that would abolish the Mississippi Arts Commission and transfer its responsibilities to the Mississippi Development Authority. Sponsors of the bill see it as a way to streamline the relationship between Mississippi’s arts scene and its tourism industry. It’s true that small-town museums and festivals across the state compete for visitors and resources, and that there are probably ways for them to work together more efficiently. It’s also true that the MDA could promote relationships between arts and businesses that are mutually beneficial.

However, there’s a cynical way to view this bill. First, the budget for the Arts Commission is only $1.7 million, which suggests that the urge to save money by consolidating agencies is, in this case, an over-reach. It also seems apparent that success in the arts and success in developing businesses involve fairly different standards. Good art does not necessarily have anything to do with efficiency or business elan. Finally, a goodly number of artists lean to the left politically; in Mississippi, many of those artists are women and people of color. Could legislation like this be a way for our conservative leaders to exercise greater control over the political content or art, or an effort to tamp down “liberal” influences in favor of those that involve business?

Update: This bill died.

Posted in Arts, Politics | 21 Comments

An Argument Against Asylum

In a series of interviews with military commanders about the situation in Mosul and Aleppo, one unnamed British general suggested that letting people in foreign countries solve their own problems is the best course of action:

“Ask yourself the question,” said one British commander at Erbil, why ISIS was able to march into Iraq in the first place? It was because of Iraqi political divisions, he argued. “Would the political scene in Iraq look better if it had been a U.S. ground force that came in and militarily defeated Daesh, or do you think it would look worse? I’d suggest it would look a lot worse. And actually, by the [Iraqi] military defeating Daesh and having done a number of years to get Kurds and Iraqis, and for that matter some other local actors, involved in cooperating to achieve that military objective, you are better placed to win.”

The general’s comments begs interesting questions: at what point is military intervention in another country’s affairs warranted? Should we allow warring factions in distant lands to settle their own differences in the hopes that the resolution of the conflict will be more permanent? What if that resolution is repugnant to our our political mores or our beliefs regarding human rights? Would it be better to return asylum seekers to their own lands to force them to solve their own problems–or die trying?


Posted in Politics | 19 Comments

State of the State

The Clarion-Ledger has coverage of Gov. Bryant’s address. I’m happy to report that nobody mentioned HB1523. Gov. Bryant reminded us that the state budget has grown $730 million since he took office five years ago. He also raised the possibility of a lottery–estimates top off at about $80 million per year in income from that, though others estimate hauling in much less. He also prioritized improving the foster care system and support for State Troopers. Democrats, in their response to Gov. Bryant, agreed that the state needs more law enforcement officials–and disagreed about most everything else.

If there was a rhetorical low point, it involved his use of one of my new most detested terms: “fake news.” Why do I hate it? Two reasons. The first is personal shame. As a former member of the fourth estate, I am disgusted by the way my former colleagues in the media blur the lines between news and editorial branches. Second, “fake news” has become shorthand for any politician who wishes to deride others’ opinions (and sometimes even the presentation of facts) because they aren’t convenient.

If only I got a nickel each time some fool–whether to the left or the right–used the phrase.

Posted in Politics | 15 Comments

More HB 1523 News

No wonder Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood didn’t want anything to do with an appeal of the federal injunction that prevented HB 1523 from becoming law. Both at home and abroad, critics seem incredulous that Gov. Phil Bryant’s attorneys have ignored precedents in their brief written in support of the bill.

I will not be surprised if Gov. Bryant brings up HB 1523 in his state of the state address in Jackson tonight. Yet I’ll be disappointed if he does–it would amount to nothing more than obfuscation. We have more important issues to discuss than opinions on a bill that a federal judge has already deemed unconstitutional.

The state’s coffers are not keeping up with the financial strains of providing for good schools, safe infrastructure, and decent health care. I am hoping our leaders will come to their senses, and that Gov. Bryant will announce new methods of funding those three priorities. I am hoping that he will not return to the old chestnuts of lowering taxes to raise revenue, or consolidating state agencies to make them more efficient. In the former case, that the math on that has not worked well. Our state has had to dip into the rainy days funds thrice this year because revenues have fallen short of expectations. In the latter case, making agencies more efficient offers very little short-term help–and we need better schools, better roads, and better health care now.

Mississippi is a good place. It would be a great place if we could get the heck out of our own way.


Posted in Gender Issues, Politics | 15 Comments

And another thing. . .or two

If I’m worried about the future I see for education, I sense even more trepidation than optimism when it comes to the things I see outside the ivory tower. Here are some topics I’d like us to consider:

Everyday usage: we all use English every day (sorry, math people). One thing that complicates the effective use of English is the way that the meaning of words can evolve quickly–so quickly that communication between generations (or even races or genders) can be compromised. A case in point: people my age define racism as a form of prejudice based on race. More recently, however, I’ve noticed the claim that racism actually refers to prejudice plus power. If I understand this correctly, a member of a minority group cannot be racist, though that person could be prejudiced.

I’m not here to suggest that the evolution of the word is wrong. However, it seems to be a change that obscures meaning rather than lending greater clarity. There are logical inconsistencies as well. If I’m a white male living in a predominately African-American city, is it impossible for me to be racist? I wouldn’t think so! Yet that seems to be a conclusion courted by the “new”definition.

Another new phrase that gets my goat is “check your privilege.” I find absolutely no substance to the phrase. When used in a heated discussion, what I hear is one person judging the alleged privilege holder by what he or she looks like rather than continuing to debate an idea–a new form of ad hominem. If I hold dear the idea that supply side economics works well for everyone (and I don’t believe this, by the way!), and an opponent tells me to check my privilege because supply side economics only works well for wealthy whites, we’ve stopped talking about policy, we’ve started talking about how my opponent perceives me. This phrase ultimately encourages us to judge people by their demographic rather than their actions.

With all this in mind, I hope we can make our everyday usage more precise–more useful–in the coming semester.

Posted in Politics, Pop Culture | 22 Comments

Up and Running Again

Welcome back, fearless bloggeurs! I’m excited to be exited about the spring semester. I teach a goodly chunk of my favorite literature each spring–Chopin, Frost, Faulkner, O’Connor, Joyce, Williams–the list of beloved texts is almost embarrassingly long.

My seniors might find this semester a useful time to reflect on their accomplishments, and to ask us all about the sort of education MSMS would be well-served to offer. I do my best to offer college-level instruction in English. I have wondered lately whether or not such courses give my students the skills they need to thrive in college and beyond. Assuming that most students here will seek majors in STEM fields, would MSMS be better off if we developed a technical writing course that would knock a semester off literature requirements? I have no idea who would teach it–I am utterly uninterested and unqualified–but I suspect my science/math oriented students would feel like they were receiving better preparation for their professions in a technical writing class than they do while studying the Greater Romantic Lyric.

All of this begs another question: what is the proper goal of education? Do we simply want a more qualified workforce? Better citizens? Do we want schools to create more doctors than plumbers? More teachers than opera stars? More engineers than poets?

For me, such questions cannot be answered without acknowledging that education in Mississippi is likely to be funded at levels that are less than ideal. Mississippi is already over $100 million short of revenue from the current fiscal year, which will have an impact on budgeting for next year. Furthermore, our school’s specialized mission is imperiled by the insistence that “level funding” (the appropriation of the same amount year after year) is good, because at least it isn’t “less funding.” However, given the cost of boarding and educating 250 students, level funding is less funding because it does not account for inflation–we simply cannot accept all eligible students with the money appropriated to us.

You can’t have a Cadillac for the cost of a second-hand mini-van; you can’t get superb results from education if you offer funding for it that is sub-par.

Posted in Education | 21 Comments

The Price of Innovation

A colleague recently forwarded me information about NEA grants for teachers. The application declares that “[w]e support new ideas and practices to strengthen teaching and learning. Our goal is to fund and share successful strategies to educate and prepare students for bright and rewarding futures.” If you know a teacher from your home district who has made a difference in your life, please share the link.

I’d also like you to ponder this: how strongly should we associate “innovation” and education? I’m genuinely curious. It seems to me that many of the things that prove especially enriching involve classroom practices that have been around since Socrates. The content has changed, but the teaching practices have not. I have tried new teaching practices from time to time; sometimes they don’t align with my goals, sometimes they do. I don’t like group work, for instance, because it’s harder to assess fairly, and because some go-getter always does too much of the work. Yet I am also eager to incorporate new content into courses; nor do I mind allowing students to read work from screens rather than dead trees when it’s convenient for them.

Perhaps I would rewrite the application to encourage teachers to make classroom practices relevant rather than “new.” The two aren’t necessarily the same.

Posted in Books, Education | 29 Comments

Another Great is Gone

Mose Allison, born near Tippo, Mississippi, in 1927, died at his home yesterday. He was an important musical bridge to the past. His mixture of country, blues and jazz was beautifully idiosyncratic; he whetted his lyrics on the hard stone of irony. I’ll miss him, and you will, too, once you listen to him.

Posted in Music, Pop Culture | 24 Comments

One More Quick Thought about Yesterday

Would all Americans have been better served if our media outlets focused more on reporting the news than on editorializing it?

Posted in Social Media, Uncategorized | 27 Comments