Thursday, June 27, 2013

Military Welfare

From Military.com:

AF Mom Juggles 6 Kids, Deployed Husband, Career

Staff Sgt. Heather Seeger paused a moment to wipe her eyes.

"I remember times waking up in the middle of the night and coming out in the living room, seeing the lights on at 2 o'clock in the morning," she continued with a faint crackle in her voice. "I would see my mom sitting at the table studying. She was going to school trying to get a better job for us, and I had no idea how she did that. How she did school and took care of my sister and me by herself. For that, she is the strongest person I know."

For Heather, that memory holds significance now more than ever. As a mother of six children, two with special needs, she devotes every effort to creating lasting memories which keep her family strong during her husband's deployment.

. . . .

According to Heather, the flexibility found within her work center plays a huge role in ensuring the family's daily operations run smoothly during her husband's absence.

"Now that he's deployed, his supervisor is asking me all the time if I need anything," she said. "My shop has also been really awesome, if I need to take my kids to appointments, or if anything else comes up. Support from our shops has honestly been the best."

I don't want to sound too mean spirited here. This is a human-interest piece, not a screed calling for more spending on this or that. And the woman is married, something too many military mothers are not. Still, though, it's hard to see how the military is getting its money's worth out of this.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Comforting the Powerful

In the latest episode of Mad Men, the characters’ affairs are interrupted by the assassination of Martin Luther King.  A fair number of them react as if having lost a beloved family member.

I asked my parents if they remembered King’s assassination and the reaction among their (upper) class of fellow southerners.  There, too, it was greeted with sadness, although not the emotionalism on display on Madison Avenue.  They exactly nobody who took any satisfaction in it, although my mother recalled her own father, a building contractor with no axe to grind about civil rights, being concerned about King’s alleged communist associates.

The episode brought to mind this statement in a community paper from its high school principal, which I came across in researching my review of Transylvania:

Recently we have found ourselves confronted with the ugly reality that the negative actions of a few can affect the attitude and atmosphere of an entire student body and the community in which we live. We have had several occurrences of hateful graffiti and derogatory terms drawn on school surfaces. Such acts reflect poorly on the school, the students, and . . . as a whole. We as a staff and community cannot stand for this type of behavior.

Last week I met with our entire staff to address this issue of anti-Semitic and other racial illustrations being found in our school and community. We had a homeroom last week where senior class leaders met with each senior homeroom to bring awareness and brainstorm ideas of how to prevent this type of behavior.  As a result of these meetings, several seniors led by . . . came to me with an idea of addressing our students in grades 9-11 and to continue follow-up homeroom activities throughout the rest of the year. I am so proud of our students and their response to this issue.

. . . .

As always, focusing on developing the social and emotional needs of our students is important to us and we are looking forward to the positive impact of two guest speakers who will be visiting.  Gerda Weissmann Klein is an author, historian, speaker, and Holocaust survivor. She will speak to our community on . . . in the auditorium and to our students on . . . .  Dr. Mykee Fowlin is a clinical psychologist and motivational speaker who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 2001. He will bring his powerful message about tolerance, acceptance of differences and appreciation for diversity to the community on . . . in the auditorium and to our high school students on . . . and . . . in two separate assemblies.

I can say that in my 22 years in education I have not seen a more powerful demonstration of leadership, compassion and guts to stand up for what is right than I did today. Well-done seniors!

Sincerely,

Principal

Graffiti and vandalism are evil and stupid.  Graffiti and vandalism that attracts the attention of the FBI (as happened in this case) are not the keys to a happy, successful life, and I hope for their sake that its perpetrators come away from this experience  having learned this lesson if nothing else.

However . . . on their way to building fodder for their college applications, these student council demonstrated not “leadership, compassion and guts” but rather their opposites.  Whatever the merits of their actions, they didn’t actually lead, but imitated what the adults around them were doing, including adults rich and connected enough to privately fund, not just one, but two guest speakers to lecture on the evils of upsetting rich and connected adults.  And I am reluctant to praise the “guts” of someone for actions that only carry personal upsides.  The civil rights activists faced nontrivial risk of arrest, violence and death.  These guys only polished their résumés. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

“Generalization” Good, “Stereotype” Bad

Hard on the heels of the ACSC lesson on stereotypes, deftly tucked in to the lesson on cultural awareness and sensitivity, came a glimmer of intelligence:

GENERALIZATIONS VS. STEREOTYPES

When discussing domains and dimensions, keep in mind that the focus is on generalizations and tendencies, not stereotypes. The dominant behaviors and values of a culture will never be shared by all of its members. Factors such as age and generation, gender, socio-economic and educational level, occupation, and life experience can lead to significant differences from individual to individual. Please see the illustration below for a graphic depiction of stereotypes and generalizations.

image 
Mmm . . . this looks familiar.  Oh, yeah, I saw some of this here, here, here, and here, and, oh look, here’s my graph almost identical to the one above.

Reading that paragraph I recalled my thoughts on reading bird-watching handbooks. (My in-laws are relatively serious bird-watchers.) As I looked through the colorful illustrations, drawn to highlight the distinctive features of each breed (species, whatever), I remarked, "How come I never see any birds that look like this? All I see are darkish blobs tearing through the sky." But apparently people much more observant than I am find these guides useful.

Of course, I would caution any freshly-scrubbed ACSC graduate hoping to take refuge in, "But it's not a stereotype, it's a generalization!" to, um, proceed cautiously. I'm sure Jason Richwine would concur.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Critical Thinking: It’s not just a river in Egypt . . .

The Air Force’s intermediate school of professional military education, Air Command & Staff College, is peddling a lesson on critical thinking (alas, not online; a friend passed me his notes in pdf, which I will share if you email me):

LESSON THESIS

This lesson provides an explanation of the cognitive skills, concepts, and meta-cognitive processes that are fundamental to critical thinking. Content in this lesson is delivered via video lecture and multi-media presentations that will lead students to an understanding of why critical thinking is important to military leaders and post-graduate students alike. It also answers the question: “What is critical thinking?” and describes the common obstacles to clear critical thinking.

LESSON OBJECTIVES

1. Explain the function of each of the six critical thinking skills: Analysis, Interpretation, Inference, Evaluation, Explanation, and Self-Regulation.

2. Comprehend how prejudice, bias, racism, ethnocentrism, and belief preservation are obstacles to critical thinking.

3. Comprehend the difference between statements of fact and opinion.

Oh boy.  I know for a fact that this module is new in the last 10 years.  Because obviously, increasing bias, racism, and ethnocentrism among college educated people are the real problems requiring yet even more lecturing against.

PREJUDICE, BIAS, AND RACISM

This section is an excerpt from Lewis Vaughn’s, The Power of Critical Thinking

Lewis Vaughn writes:

Group pressure often leads to prejudice, bias, and racism. (To a lesser extent, so does self- interest.) But what do these terms mean?

Prejudice in its broadest sense is a judgment or opinion—whether positive or negative—based on insufficient reasons. But usually the term is used in a more narrow way to mean a negative, or adverse, belief (most often about people) without sufficient reasons. At the heart of prejudice, then, is a failure of critical thinking. And the use of critical thinking is an important part of eradicating prejudiced views.

Bias is another word for prejudice, both in the general and the narrow sense. Sometimes the word is also used to mean an inclination of temperament or outlook—as in "My bias is in favor of tougher laws."

Racism is a lack of respect for the value and rights of people of different races or geographical origins. Usually this attitude is based on prejudice—specifically an unjustified belief that one group of people is somehow superior to another.29

[Ethnocentrism is] the pressure that comes from presuming that our own group is the best, the right one, the chosen one, and all other groups are, well, not as good. … The assumption that your group is better than others is at the heart of prejudice. This we-are-better pressure is probably the most powerful of all. We all have certain beliefs not because we have thought critically about them but because our parents raised us to believe them or because the conceptual push and pull of our social group has instilled them in us. That is, we may believe what we believe—and assume that our beliefs are better than anyone else’s—because we were born into a family or society that maintains such views.30

Group thinking can also easily generate narrow-mindedness, resistance to change, and stereotyping.

A stereotype [is]—an unwarranted conclusion…about an entire group of people. To stereotype someone is to judge [him or] her not as an individual, but as part of a group whose members are thought to be all alike. … Stereotypes abound about men and women and probably every known ethnic group.31

Notice how the definition of stereotype confounds two separate issues:  whether or not a conclusion about a group of people is unwarranted (i.e., “not true”, I think) and how a conclusion about a group is applied to its individual members.

THE IMPACT OF ETHNOCENTRISM ON CRITICAL THINKING

To better understand the range of ethnocentrism and its impact on human behavior, critical thinking, and cross-cultural relations, examine the continuum below. It was adapted from a chart developed by Dr. James Neuliep32:

image

Now the author is just making stuff up.  He wants to preserve the positive connotations of “patriotism”, so he simply asserts that it implies “low ethnocentrism”, whereas thinking your team is “best” inevitably means genocide.

ASSUMPTIONS AND STEREOTYPES

Biases and prejudices are difficult to overcome, especially when they emerge as unconscious assumptions.  Unconsciously held assumptions are beliefs that are rarely questioned and generally accepted as “the way things are.” These “tendencies and assumptions and reflexes,” as Hofstede described them, come to us via our communities and, in a larger sense, our cultures.33 A good example of a prejudicial assumption that was prevalent in the past was that all women were terrible drivers. This type of prejudice is also a stereotype. Another example of a gender
stereotype comes to us from the realm of classical music. In the not-so-distant past, female musicians were generally considered to be inferior to their male counterparts. In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explains how a simple change in the audition process for major orchestras altered the way maestros viewed their musicians and dramatically transformed America’s symphony orchestras.34

Keep in mind that an assumption is not necessarily biased or prejudicial. In fact, all reasoning rests upon the formation of assumptions. The key to keeping our assumptions free of bias is self-regulation.

With the usual caveat that it is silly to argue about definitions, and with the admission that the lesson's author’s definitions are consistent with the dictionary, I would like to suggest alternative definitions in apparent search for their own words.  Until then, I will use the words above.

Stereotype: The observation or apprehension of mean population differences in character or aptitude.

Prejudice:  The attribution of group mean characteristics to individuals in that group. This does not require believing that all group members are alike. But that’s the way to bet.

Bias:  a systematic as opposed to a random distortion of a statistic as a result of sampling procedure.  (This is definition #3 in Dictionary.com.)

Ethnocentrism:  The belief that costs and benefits to one’s own ethny, however defined, should be the dominant consideration.  No claim to superiority is implied.

Racism:  you can have this one.

As revealed in the next lesson, ACSC is at least semi-aware of the straw-man they are creating.  Stay tuned for Monday's post . . .

Monday, June 10, 2013

On Behalf of CCW

[Your humble blogger read the statement below to our congregational meeting in support of a resolution permitting the carrying of concealed weapons. Our state laws require such a resolution in order for anyone other than law enforcement to carry weapons in a church, irrespective of other restrictions.]

Mr. Chairman, fellow parishioners. I rise to speak in favor of making provision for armed security at our church during Sunday services. I originally introduced this motion at the January Parish Planning Council meeting, and as your hand-outs indicate, I recommended that we make immediate use of our existing members who possess a license from our state to carry concealed weapons, of whom there are at least four on the Parish Planning Council alone that I know about. In the interest of minimizing the church's liability, I also recommended that they carry weapons in their individual capacity.

I am flexible on these points, and I have always been open, as I open tonight, to constructive amendments to either my proposal or the proposal voted out of the PPC in their April meeting for your consideration now. However, in the wake of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut last December, it is painfully apparent that designating any place as a “gun free zone” without adequate measures of enforcement is only an invitation to the criminally insane to commit a massacre of defenseless people. As we have seen repeatedly, from Columbine, to Virginia Tech, to Fort Hood, to the Aurora Theater, the one thing these places have in common is that the lawful possession of firearms is not permitted. These prohibitions guarantee to those who would harm us, many whom want as their final wish to draw attention to their own suicides, that no law-abiding citizen will be able to fight back.

Fortunately, our state empowers church congregations to avoid this mistake. Our laws allow churches to honor the privileges of CCW license holders, allowing them to exercise their rights in the defense of themselves and their fellow worshipers. Random mass murders do not happen very often; indeed, last year alone more people were murdered in Chicago -- a city with an absolute prohibition on handgun ownership -- than have been killed nationwide in random mass murders over the last 30 years. Yet when they do occur, they happen in places where people have been forbidden to defend themselves. Churches have not been immune to this; the numbers that I have show that there were 135 deadly force incidents at places of worship last year. Our church is within its rights under the law to correct this folly and decide not to make itself a target for those who seek to do evil against us.

But some people object, “Shouldn’t we trust God for our protection?” Absolutely, we should. And nothing about trust in God requires or excuses improvidence. Noah trusted God as he built an ark to save himself and his family from the flood. David trusted God as he stopped to choose five smooth stones before he faced Goliath. Nehemiah trusted God as he built walls around Jerusalem and put armed men to guard them. Yes, we should always and everywhere trust God. We trust God to provide for our food and shelter as we rise and work for our living. We trust God to heal us of sickness as we visit the doctor. We trust God to protect us from harm as we support at great expense the police and military to enforce our laws and protect our borders. And a great many of us our church trust God as we keep and bear arms for the defense of ourselves and our families.

“But wait!” some reply, “Isn’t protecting us is the job for the police.” Absolutely not. This is incorrect as both a legal and factual matter. The job of the police is to enforce the law, and it’s a task they accomplish by bringing its violators to justice. They have no substantive obligation to protect any person or institution from harm, and this is a question that no less than the Supreme Court has ruled on in several cases. What is not disputed, however, is that all persons have a substantive right to defend themselves, and forty-four states, including ours, have guaranteed citizens the right to keep the means for their protection on their persons. In recognition that the primary obligation of defense rests with the individual, 100 million Americans own firearms, our state alone has licensed 340,000 of its citizens, several of whom are members in good standing right here, to carry concealed weapons.

“Ah, but the police are two minutes away,” they object. “Isn’t their protection basically assured?” Now, to clarify this point, I will stipulate that, once one of us, amid what could be a hail of bullets, pulls out her smart phone, unlocks the screen, navigates to the dialing app, dials 911, and explains to the dispatcher what’s happening and where, then yes, two minutes from that point, the police will arrive at the church door.

I looked up the timeline for Sandy Hook massacre. Some of the details of last 14 December are sketchy, but the best estimate appears to be that Adam Lanza began his attack sometime between 9:30 a.m., when the exterior doors of the school were locked as they always were, and 9:34 a.m. At exactly 9:35:52, the first police dispatch was broadcast, and by 9:36:38, police were calling in their first observations of the crime scene. 9:35:52 – 9:36:38. That is a forty-six second response time. Thirty people died at Sandy Hook Elementary school that day. So no, I’m not personally reassured by our little town's 2 minute response time.

So then people object, “Hey, guns don’t belong in the sanctuary.” Now, I’m not quite sure how to reconcile this objection with faith in the police, whom I assure you will bring their guns when they answer our call, but let
s put that aside. Let’s talk about sanctuary. The etymology of the word “sanctuary” implies “set apart for holy, as opposed to common, use.” It also has been used to describe a place where a wrongdoer may flee to escape revenge from his victim’s family, and in medieval times it also offered refuge from the civil law as well. However, nowhere in scripture is there a prohibition on weapons in the temple or sanctuary; on the contrary, they were specifically kept in the sanctuary as recorded in II Kings 10. I am well aware that over time much superstition and sentimentality have grown up around our ideas about sanctuary, but our responsibility as Christians is to examine that sentiment in the light of God’s Word, and I challenge everyone to justify their beliefs about sanctuary on that basis.

[“Okay, but what if an accident happens?” We’ve all heard stories, some of which may be told tonight, about improper weapons handling, sometimes with tragic consequence. And these stories are very instructive. They serve as an important reminder to all of us on the need for attention to safety, proper procedures, and good training, all of which Ohioans need to receive a CCW license. They especially remind us not to do stupid things, like hand someone a loaded pistol in the middle of a crowded room. This is the adult way of handling responsibility. But more people are killed in car accidents than firearm accidents, yet we all continue to drive. More people drown every year than die in firearm accidents, yet those of us who enjoy swimming continue to do so. So there is no reason to expect that a well-managed security program can’t be conducted in complete safety to the people it protects.]*

Now many people will admit, “Well, I just don’t like guns.” Now this reaction is perhaps the most honest objection raised, and I believe it drives a lot of the other arguments put forward against this resolution. By making this statement, “I don’t like guns,” people usually mean one of two things. One, they are expressing a genuine personal fear or discomfort with firearms, they have no experience with them, they didn’t grow up with them, etc. My own wife fell into this category when we were married in 1997. Five years later, after our daughter was born, and in the determination to protect her, she acquired her own pistol, and today she holds her own license from the state to carry a concealed weapon. But not everyone will follow that path. Jesus told his disciples, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” I’m not going to tell you to do that. The decision to bear arms is between you and your own conscience. Nothing in this resolution imposes an obligation on anyone to carry a gun. It imposes no obligation on anyone to use a gun to defend himself. It doesn’t even require anyone to see a gun, since the key part of carrying a concealed weapon is that it is concealed. None of you need ever know which of your fellow parishioners is armed, until that day, God forbid it should ever come, that their weapons are used to save your life and the lives of your children.

[But the second thing that people can mean by saying that they don’t like guns is much darker. I do not question anyone’s motives here tonight, but it is abundantly clear from the media coverage of this issue that people use the debate over firearms as a proxy. What people are doing is expressing their dislike for certain classes of their fellow citizens they believe are likely to own firearms. In the media these are typically “Republicans”, “Conservatives”, “White Male Heterosexuals”, or some combination of these qualities. In response to this argument, I would respond first by saying it is factually wrong, that CCW holders come from all walks of life, of all political orientations, that they are united only by the desire not to be defenseless in the face of violent crime. But more importantly, I want to recommend to the church that we do not allow our safety to be held hostage to our nation’s political and cultural divisions.]** Even if you believe that our society would be better off without guns; even if you believe that guns don’t belong in church; that is NOT the issue before the assembly, because come the day, you will not control whether there are guns here. The bad guys will bring their guns, and I promise you the police will bring theirs. The issue before us is whether we remain unprotected against a violent intrusion into our house of worship, or whether we prudently prepare for that contingency. My exhortation to you tonight is that we choose prudence.

Finally, some say, “I worry about what the resolution signifies. What message does it send to our children or the community?” Now, in the resolution before you, the Parish Planning Council is asking your permission to continue wrestling with this very question. And each person who votes on this resolution must look to his own conscience, guided as always by faith and reason, and must decide for himself what it means, be it for or against. I can only speak for myself when I say that my vote here tonight means that as much as it depends on me, I live at peace with all men.

That concludes my statement, and yield back the floor to the Chairman.

[We "lost" in a tie vote. A lot better than I expected.]

* I made the tactical decision to save this point for rebuttal.

** This section wound up on the kitchen floor during rehearsals. My wife made a good point: who, exactly, was it going to persuade?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Affirmative Action

This article (H.T.: Paul) had this to say:

The interviewees in my study who were most angry about affirmative action were those who had relatively fewer marketable skills — and were therefore most dependent on getting an inside edge for the best jobs. Whites who felt entitled to these positions believed that affirmative action was unfair because it blocked their own privileged access.

This is almost certainly backwards. I believe her when she finds a negative correlation between "skills" and resistance to affirmative action. People with rare and highly specialized skills (me, for instance) aren't much threatened by gross racial quotas. There just aren't enough candidates for the kind of work we do from which to generate employment statistics by race, so in general nobody sees much value in worrying about it. (University teaching, where Diversity uber alles, is another matter.) But the other side is that social networks become much more important. Employers who might want to hire someone with my background are typically only going to higher one person, so it makes sense for them to use their networks to do it.

In contrast, down the skill chain, where there are a lot more positions and candidates to sort, employers rely much more on relatively straightforward metrics. I don't actually know, but I suspect that social networks play a diminished role. In contrast, however, racial quotas become much more of an issue. It is too easy for someone to notice -- and sue over -- racial imbalances. So the pressure to make sure the quotas are met increases.

Monday, June 03, 2013

This is 40

I watched Judd Apatow’s movie This is 40 on DVD.  I almost didn’t see it because of its relatively bad reviews, but I’m glad I did.  Apatow’s work entertains the crap out of me, and 40 provided plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

It’s may be true that the “story” part of the movie is thin.  The movie doesn’t really have a central conflict.  Rather, the movie just shows the lot of little conflicts a struggling middle (or upper-middle; more on this in a bit) class family dealing with money, sex, in-laws, and adolescent children in the age of Facebook.  Apatow cast his real-life wife (Leslie Mann) and children (who performed surprisingly well) opposite Paul Rudd.  Several of Apatow’s protégés make appearances, as does Megan Fox.

Rudd’s character owns and operates an independent recording label, and tries valiantly to market classic rock in a hip-hip age.  Mann owns and operates a clothing boutique, where one of her employees has stolen $12K worth of merchandise.  One of the in-laws has mooched $80K over the last two years.  All this feeds the money troubles.

Yet they still decide to have their 40th birthday party catered.  Really?  I’ve had exactly one event catered:  my wedding.  But other than weddings, I’m not sure I’ve even attended a private catered event, let alone threw one myself.  The concept boggles the mind.  It further boggles the mind that a family feeling a money crunch would not make this the first expenditure to unload.

Apatow’s movies feature copious and florid profanity, and 40 is no exception.  At some threshold, this bothers me, but in Apatow’s hands it’s amusing rather than upsetting in my perhaps minority opinion.