Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Promises To Be a Ripping New Annus

While it may stay horribilis before it gets any better, there is reason to hope:

A leading IT research firm is predicting the resurgence of the Occupy movement on an even larger scale, the beginnings of a barter economy in the wake of mass boycotts, and a movement toward nonprofit-driven medical care instigated by activist volunteers. 

The information technology research firm, Gartner, which describes itself as “the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company" warns its clients not to be seen as culprits in the inevitable labor unrest, consumer boycotts, and mass social upheaval. CEOs had better get ready for some heavy-duty backlash and enhanced public scrutiny of their greed. They had better get their PR asses in gear, in other words.

 Of course, the ultra-rich are paying no heed. One tycoon named Ken Langone is so pissed off by the sudden unwarranted attention being paid to the poor that he is petulantly threatening to cut off the cash for the refurbishment of St. Pat's Cathedral in NYC. He's warning Pope Francis, through his pal Tim Cardinal Dolan, to tone down that inequality rhetoric -- or else. Dolan was forced to go on the Plutocrat Channel to do damage control, simultaneously pushing back against this trendy new demonization of The Obscene Rich and insisting no such demonization is even taking place. I guess that makes him an ecclesiastical centrist.

 Langone,  billionaire founder of Home Depot, funder of both Republicans and Wall Street Democrats, had approached Dolan and complained that another  billionaire who of course is not named Ken Langone got his feelings hurt by the Pope. From the CNBC transcript: 
So, he says to me (Dolan)-- "Pope Francis is helping us big time. Because there's such an enthusiasm and a love-- for him and for the church that he said, "People are more interested in our project of Saint Patrick's Cathedral." He did pass on to me.
He said, "Now, one person said, 'You know, you come to us who have been-- blessed, who are wealthy. And, yet, we sense that, perhaps, the Pope is less than enthusiastic about us.'" And he said, "We need to correct that."
And I said, "Well-- Ken, that would be a misunderstanding of the Holy Father's-- message. The Pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people. He loves people, all right. He's -- and he-- and he's not into the condemning game for anybody." His famous, renowned statement now, "Who am I to judge?" So, I said, "Ken, thanks for bringing it to my attention. We've got to correct to make sure this gentleman, who's the only one I've heard, understands the Holy Father's message properly. And then, I think he's going to say, 'Oh, okay. If that's the case, count me in for Saint Patrick's Cathedral,' so.  
So, yeah. But I trust Ken's judgment so much that if he tells me, "This is a potential donor who's a little confused and perhaps irritated about the Pope's message. Can you help me out here?" So, I think we have. Yeah.
If anybody can put the extreme back in unctuousness it is Tim Dolan.

Langone, for his part, recently went on another plutocrat channel to deliver his own pro-rich people anti-Paul Krugman rant, urging that Social Security be cut. Along with the other CEOs of the Fix the Debt austerian crowd, he falsely claims that poverty-stricken old geezers are stealing pensions and healthcare from the unborn. But since he also spends part of his billions glorifying the house of the Lord(s), he also passed on to his pal the Card the message that obscenely wealthy Americans are preferable to obscenely wealthy foreign people.   

So, yeah. It is indeed shaping up to be the year to end all Annuses (sic). Cheers, everybody!



Fred Drumlevitch said...

How come Ken Langone, a supposedly devout Catholic, is questioning papal pronouncements?! Doesn't Langone, a supposedly devout Catholic, believe in papal infallibility?


Now, that critique by Pope Francis may not formally meet the requirements for "papal infallibility"

But whether or not the Pope's exhortation meets the formal requirements for "infallibility", it's clear that Langone as a supposed devout Catholic very much needs to absorb, and heed, some of the Catholic church's extensive teachings on social justice. Either that, or he should just admit that he actually worships at the Church of Mammon, and end his pretense to anything else. And Cardinal Dolan can join him in such an admission.

(Oh, and the Wikipedia entry for Langone notes that "Langone was a co-founder and board member of ChoicePoint Inc.", and "Langone also served on the board of Database Technologies...".

In turn, the Wikipedia entries for these two companies state "DBT Online Inc., formerly known as Database Technologies is a data mining company founded by Roy Brubaker and Hank Asher in 1992 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. It is today a subsidiary of US data aggregation group, ChoicePoint." and "ChoicePoint (previous NYSE ticker symbol CPS) was a data aggregation company based in Alpharetta, near Atlanta, Georgia, United States, that acted as a private intelligence service to government and industry. It was purchased in February 2008 by Reed Elsevier (parent corporation of LexisNexis) in a cash deal for $3.6 billion USD."

So it looks like Langone, in modern plutocratic fashion, has been far more interested in the compiling of dossiers on people than in insuring that people get social and economic justice.)

Happy New Year to all Sardonickyans.

Noodge said...

Fred: You remind me of Ambrose Bierce.

MAMMON, n. The god of the world's leading religion. The chief temple is in the holy city of New York.

Fred Drumlevitch said...


Thanks, that's a great compliment (but objectively, one that I don't deserve. Day in and day out, it's Karen who is serving up the original, accurate, and witty denunciations).

@Noodge and @Zee (and @all):

By the way, (in case you didn't see it, as it was at the very end of the "New Year's Resolution: Resist the Lists" thread, and by then Karen had made a new post that was getting the attention), I did further comment on some of the higher educational funding issues that you elaborated on in your comments on that thread.

One different but related point that I made there — and would appreciate your thoughts on (including any possible solutions) — was my assertion that "the universities have failed in ways beyond the funding reductions and tuition increases, beyond the administrative bloat and edifice complex, beyond the devaluation of the liberal arts. Just as the left has failed to adequately 'make its case' to the public with respect to political ideology, I think that universities have often failed to make the case for their importance — to the public, the ultimate support for spending — in ways unrelated to fielding winning athletic teams. And I don't mean making the case by means of PR, plenty of which can be seen. The broad public should consider public universities as an essential part of the community — because those universities should themselves try to serve as a broad essential resource, beyond the academic research and student education function. That resource function is declining, and to many, universities seem more and more remote and irrelevant." (See also the library example I used there, which may not be the most important one, but which is clearly visible, is easily verifiable, and may or may not have parallels in your neck of the woods).

4Runner said...

Karen, thanx for nailing the extreme unctuousness of redhat Timmy Dolan. It's small comfort to know that someday his un-blessed blather will receive its last rites.

Noodge said...

Fred: This may be long-winded, and for that I apologize. I think the rise of athletics on college campuses is, in part, because state universities have come to the conclusion that they can't win the argument over the value of higher education with a majority of voters.

Voters - at least the voters one needs to win elections - are pretty simple. They don't mind paying taxes as long as they see that their taxes are going to come back to them in tangible ways. So they don't mind paying taxes for roads, police, and fire protection. They don't mind paying taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

But they sure as heck mind paying taxes for schools once their kids are no longer attending. When I lived in Las Vegas it was hell getting school bond issues passed in the county, despite huge problems with overcrowding and teacher retention, in large part because of the existence of two very large Del Webb communities in the area.

But as hard as it is to sell the public on the notion that it's good for everyone if Johnny knows how to read, it's nigh on impossible to convince them of the necessity for Johnny to learn to learn the critical and analytic skills that people like Karen display. We all know too well the consequences of having a poorly educated electorate.

For public universities, then, the issue becomes how to raise money from the poorly educated electorate in ways other than taxation. The answer is pretty simple: football. The president of the University of Alabama wasn't kidding when he said hiring Nick Saban as their head football coach, at a cost of about $7 million per year, was the best investment his university ever made.

People who would never think of voting for someone who supports higher taxes for higher education gladly spend thousands of dollars on t-shirts, banners, tickets, seat licenses, etc, from which the University receives royalties. Auburn University stands to reap tens of millions of dollars from its appearance in the national championship football game this week, and will see its enrollment increase as a result. How many people would even have heard of the mechanical and agricultural school of Alabama but for that?

Of course with such big athletic programs the tail ends up wagging the dog. George Cross, president of the University of Oklahoma, famously remarked that he "would like to build a University of which the football team could be proud." The programs generate millions, but very little of that ever winds up in the libraries. Presidents justify the continuing existence of these athletic programs because they raise visibility and therefore enrollment (and there is some truth to that). But whatever good intention there may have been in elevating football and basketball has surely paved that proverbial highway.

Because while the president of the University of Alabama can kid himself into believing that all of those t-shirts mean that the people of Alabama support the university, we all know better. If the people wearing those shirts could either have the football team without the university, or the university without the football team, we all know what they would choose.

Kat said...

Speaking of Catholics, has no NYT reader ever heard of Jean- Bertrand Aristide? Today, in the latest installment of Nicholas Kristof's tales of derring-doodoo, he's off to Haiti to rescue the weaker sex. I cannot believe some of the comments-- besides the usual "we're so grateful for you humanitarianism, Mr. Kristof" crap there are comments about "taking over" the country, absorbing it into the US (Haitians will migrate to the US emptying the country so that it may serve as a retirement community for baby boomers once property rights can be ensured), talk of forced sterilizations, etc... It is very depressing. Not much mention of Clinton, the IMF, or neoliberalism. That's what a Nicholas Kristof column does: distracts and lets you feel warm and fuzzy. You should take your scalpel to his words, Karen.

Zee said...

@Fred, @Noodge and @All--

Back when I attended UC Davis, the town of Davis was very small. During the academic year, I believe students may well have outnumbered city residents. Being then quite isolated from Sacramento, it was, therefore, something of a cultural hub for the town. I don't know that UCD ever advertised to the public the various cultural events/performances at its (then) single multi-purpose theater, but I recollect that the paying public was welcome. And, with a town as small as Davis was at the time, word-of-mouth was probably a pretty effective way to notify the public as to what was going on.

Now, with Davis much larger and Sacramento much more accessible, I just couldn't say. I do recall that while we had athletic teams that competed regionally, we had no athletic scholarships—unlike Cal and UCLA—so that other than to alumni who came to Davis as students and stayed on as citizens, the various teams were not subjects of much local interest.

Per Noodge's excellent commentary, The University of New Mexico is mostly known to the general public via its football and basketball teams, for which local support is quite rabid even when the teams are losing—which seems to be much of the time. Beyond that, I don't know that UNM and the citizens of Albuquerque interact at all, other than that UNM has one large performing arts theater that is rented by traveling shows and—at one time—the local civic light opera. Certainly, I never see non-commercial events advertised advertised in the local paper.

I could join the UNM Library system for the comparatively small sum of $35/year. I once considered it upon losing access to my company's excellent technical library, but parking at and around UNM is extremely limited during the academic year. (Which, I think would be off-putting to anyone else who wanted to see UNM as a “cultural hub.”) I would probably spend more time hunting for a parking space than actually researching any projects, so I let the idea drop. I don't know if that $35 buys me any computer time, however. In any event, our local library system costs nothing to join and provides computer access to those who have none at home, also at no cost.

I agree with you both that state universities should have close ties to the populations alongside which they exist, but I have to agree with you and Noodge. For the public at large, state universities might as well be on a separate planet as just down the street.

And Noodge, I had never heard your quote from the president of the University of Oklahoma. At first, it had me rolling on the floor laughing. Then, it had me shaking my head in sadness.

PS: I hope that nothing I said in my previous posts regarding state universities was interpreted as me "demeaning the value of a liberal arts education."

Nothing could be further from the truth. But when one racks up an average college loan debt of about $30K and is serious about paying it off, well, the sad truth is that in today's economy a technical degree holds out much more promise of freeing one's self from indebtedness than a liberal arts degree.

PPS: Today's CAPTCHA code includes the word "students."

James F Traynor said...

Karen, not to be petty, but you misspelled 'Anus' in the header. It only has one 'n'. I'm sure you'll be more careful in the future.

4Runner said...

@James F Traynor

Funny that you mentioned that, because tonight @ 11:30 PM the planets will all be aligned with Uranus.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Noodge, @Zee (and @all):

Part 1:

Thanks for your continued comments on the subject of education, educational financing, and the modern societal role/interactions of education with the general public.

I'd quibble a bit with @Noodge's assertion that voters "don't mind paying taxes as long as they see that their taxes are going to come back to them in tangible ways. So they don't mind paying taxes for roads, police, and fire protection. They don't mind paying taxes for Social Security and Medicare."

Here in the greater Tucson area, the roads are a disgrace, probably worse than in many a Third World country. If one lives in unincorporated Pima County rather than within the Tucson city limits, one gets fire protection via household subscription to the private Rural Metro company or other private fire departments, because taxpayers are apparently unwilling to fund via taxation a county fire department. And of course we know that at the national level, taxpayers — or at least the "representatives" they continue to elect — are unwilling to make the modest increases to Social Security and Medicare funding that would guarantee solvency for many years.

But I understand and generally agree with your point about taxpayers preferring to see tangible results over less-tangible ones. In fact, that point is at the core of my previous argument about universities nowadays failing to adequately make the case for their importance/relevance to the public.

By no means is that the only problem. As we've discussed on this forum, and as you've both detailed in recent days, there have been enormous changes to the relative proportions of the various university funding sources; and then some of the universities' misery is self-inflicted, via administrative bloat, competition for the most luxurious facilities, and inadequate cost controls. Compounding that for many years has been a substantial anti-intellectual popular mood loose in this country, far more prevalent in the U.S. than in Europe or Asia, with some of it "culturally"(!) inherent and some injected by right-wingers for their own political and/or economic gain.

But I still think that there has been substantial additional damage from universities simply not making their case, in either words or deeds. I bring it up as a specific issue distinct from the aforementioned ones because I consider it to be directly analogous to liberals (and often, the left too) failing to "make their case" politically on countless issues — and we all know what damage that has produced. Do/will these overpaid top university administrators publicly vigorously challenge any of the all-too-prevalent anti-academic statements being made by right-wing politicians and media bloviators? No, the chance is slim to none, perhaps because they hope that university fortunes will somehow improve in the future — dream on! — and perhaps more certainly, because they don't want to risk losing their very well paid positions. As you've said, a far more likely response is for these university administrators to try to build public support via the performance of the athletic teams. I think that's a cowardly and faulty course of action that has considerably contributed to an anti-academic mood becoming common in the country.

(Like Zee, I find that U. of Oklahoma quote astounding. But I do wonder, when all costs are considered and the creative accounting stripped away, whether college athletics really does advance the financial balance sheet of the average college as much as is claimed. The "profits" may be a self-serving mythology of the outrageously-paid coaches; like the supposed universal benefits of financial derivatives, they may disappear upon closer inspection, in fact benefit only a few).

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Part 2:

A reasonable question would be whether an anti-academic/pro-sports mood is a "natural" part of public opinion. I would argue no. Certainly, there was a time when athletics at many colleges was very much an amateur affair (if it was even present at all), so teams had neither the prominence nor the win record they do now. Surely those colleges must have had plenty of local support. The establishment of a college might not have been the first choice (compared to alternative development) for a growing municipality aspiring to greatness — the University of Arizona was a consolation prize to Tucson for Phoenix being chosen as the territorial capital! But it still must have had some attraction, and certainly not because of its athletic teams. No, beyond the (non-athletic) spending the university generated, it was probably considered an important resource, certainly with regard to knowledge but probably also in matters of culture.

Note that I'm definitely not arguing for some great bias towards a highly technological/ agricultural/ utilitarian role for universities (though I think that people, whatever their academic focus or employment, would benefit (as would the society at large) from a greater familiarity with the formal methods of math and science). As I've said, some portions of a liberal arts education such as history and literature might not have a quantifiable benefit, but are essential to the development/maintenance of a properly-functioning society. But I think that universities must in both word and deed — and completely apart from athletics, or PR of any sort — strive to be genuinely seen as important to a substantial portion of the populace.

That relates to my example about the various ways that the University of Arizona has, despite it's being a public institution, made its libraries difficult and costly for the public to use. Sure, in this age of the internet, many people seem to have little use for libraries. But I still think them important, and the University of Arizona's actions in that sphere is both symbolic of the increasing unavailability/ unaffordability of higher education, as well as of the deliberate renunciation by public universities of their public role.

annenigma said...

All you fans(?) of David Brooks who want to enjoy a good laugh should read not only his piece today 'Been There, Done That' (and some of the comments) at:

but more importantly, read this piece afterwards from David's old Choom Gang member, Gary Greenberg. You'll love it!

Noodge said...

@ annenigma: Thanks for the link to the Greenberg piece. It was the perfect antidote to Brooks.

Zee said...


Universities and the Public: Part I

I can't address anti-intellectualism in Europe or Asia, but, certainly, the United States have a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. You've asked the question, “ [is] an anti-academic/pro-sports mood...a 'natural' part of public opinion[?],” and I would reply that it is a fundamental aspect of human nature at our current state of “sociophysical” evolution. And this natural “prejudice” is quite independent of where on the educational “ladder,” K-Ph.D., one might care to look.

Many will, doubtless, care to argue with me, but I think it is reasonable to loosely equate academic achievement with “intellectualism.” And it's been my observation that though the “nerds” may well be respected by their teachers/mentors, amongt their wider peer group they are viewed with disdain if not outright contempt.

I didn't think about this much until high school, when I started to observe that one could get good grades and still be respected by the average student, but if and only if one was also good at athletics. For kids like me, who excelled at academics but lacked the physical skills for football or basketball—and, worse yet, didn't care —well, we were outcasts save amongst the teachers and, well, our own kind. We were intellectuals.

In this limited space it's pointless to debate how much of this “prejudice” is nature and how much is nurture at this instant in time. I would argue that it's both.

Have a look at the century-old Thomas Nast cartoon from this Wikipedia article on anti-intellectualism:

(The objectivity of the article itself is disputed, but the cartoon is...well...interesting.)

OK. So enough about K-12. But I believe that this prejudice extends right into the university, as well as into the everyday lives of both the university- and non-university-educated. Hence the fascination with the UNM Lobos even amongst those who never attended UNM a day in their lives. I believe—though I'm prepared to be shown otherwise—that it's another fundamental aspect of our current state of development that most individuals feel compelled to find larger groups to which to “belong,” merely as a part of being human.

New Mexico has no professional athletic teams, but we still abound with loyalties either to teams that represent our “home” cities or states, or to nearby teams—e.g., Denver or Dallas— just because they're close to home.

We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves—except, of course, for maybe considering ourselves all to be co-citizens of the United States, which would place some real obligations on us. We wouldn't want that now, would we?

So, in the end, I believe that the general populace values brawn—and, certainly, down-to-earth, blue-collar labor skills—over brain, and sometimes for very good reasons. When your toilet is overflowing, who is likely to be of more use? A union plumber or a Ph.D. in French Renaissance Lit? (OK, OK. Some Ph.D.s—including myself— can deal with an overflowing toilet.)

How does all this extend to how the public views state universities?

Zee said...

Universities and the Public, Part II

Well, Fred, you've argued, I think rightly, that universities have not tried hard enough to make a case for their value to the general public beyond their athletic teams. But I think it actually goes far beyond that.

IMHO, universities have gone out of their way to establish themselves as bastions of liberal, intolerant, “effete, intellectual snobs,” as Spiro Agnew put it, and thus further distanced themselves from the general public.

When reading the news, I seldom hear much from the local universities as to how they relate to my daily life. Seldom do I even hear of some UNM technological breakthrough that will make my life easier, safer, or better. (But then, I don't subscribe to any local periodicals that have a “Science section” any more, and such publications are dwindling.)

What I DO read about—because I follow some conservative news-aggregators as well as progressive ones—is largely about increasing liberal intolerance for conservative views on university campuses.

One doesn't have to look very far on Google to find numerous outrageous examples of “liberal” university students shouting down invited conservative guest speakers because the former strenously disagreed with the latter. And pusillanimous university administrators are powerless (read: unwilling—or maybe even complicit) in restraining or disciplining these pseudo-left-wing (I call them “fascist,” but that's just me) students/enemies of the First Amendment. I won't bore you Sardonickistas with link after link when you can do the searches yourselves. I think one will suffice:

Every time this happens, you can bet that Joe and JoAnne SixPack—reading the Drudge Report, HotAir, Red State, whatever— WILL hear about it, over and over again. Maybe Joe and JoAnne don't have college degrees, but they do have a dim understanding of the First Amendment. And they don't much like it when their cultural icons are shouted down at what are supposed to be oases of free discourse.

Is it any surprise that Joe and JoAnne don't much give a damn about the State U. down the street when they know that their views are anathema there?

So, in my long-winded way, I guess I'm trying to say that larger universities, at least, see their athletic teams as their principal connection to the local populace, their “PR,” so to speak. But worse yet, with their administrations' tolerance for liberal intolerance on campus, they advertise themselves as fortresses of liberal thought to the exclusion of all other ideas.

And that just doesn't go over well at all with the general public, myself included.