What I’m Reading, September 2, 2014

Why Uber must be stopped, Andrew Leonard, Salon, August 31, 2014

The real question we should be asking ourselves is this: What happens when a company with the DNA of Uber ends up winning it all? What happens when the local taxi companies are destroyed and Lyft is crushed? When Uber has dominant market position in every major city on the globe? “UberEverywhere” isn’t a joke. It’s a mantra, a call to arms, a holy ideology.

What happens when Uber’s priorities turn to generating cash rather than spending it? What happens to labor — the Uber drivers — when they have no alternative but Uber? What happens when it rains and the surge-pricing spikes and there’s nowhere else to go? A company with the street-fighting ethos of Uber isn’t going to let drivers unionize, and it certainly isn’t going to pay them more than it is required to by the harsh laws of competition. It will also dump them entirely in a nanosecond when self-driving cars prove that they are cheaper and safer. Making the case that drivers are benefitting from the current recruitment wars starts to look like a pretty short-term play. The more powerful Uber gets, the more leverage it will have over labor.

So here’s what’s going to happen. Society is going to realize that power as great as Uber’s needs to be checked. Uber, by virtue of its own success, will demonstrate where the lines need to be drawn for the general good. When Uber is the only game in town, the necessity for comprehensive requirements for commercial insurance and background checks will be obvious. When Uber starts using its logistics clout and unlimited investment capital to go after UPS and Hertz and FedEx, regulators will start wondering about antitrust issues.

Michelle Rhee’s Real Legacy: Here’s What’s Most Shameful About Her Reign, Matt Bruenig, AlterNet, August 30, 2014 Continue reading


A Right to an Education

One way to interpret the decision in El Paso ISD v. McIntyre is to say that the Texas Court of Appeals for the Eighth District held that home-school kids have a right to some basic level of education, or that parents who home-school their kids have an obligation to teach them something.

It’s not at all that straightforward, though (is it ever?) The court’s decision was largely based on procedural issues, with a considerable amount of attention given to whether the McIntyres had “exhausted their administrative remedies.” In plain English, people have to go through an administrative procedure before filing certain types of lawsuits, including a suit against a government entity. In this type of case, the process would require a complaint to a school administrator, followed by the superintendent, followed by the school board.

The school district asked the appeals court to rule that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case because the plaintiffs went to court before going through the required administrative process. The appellate court agreed.

The facts of the case, as depicted by the appellate court, make it tempting to hope that this decision will have a far-reaching impact on the more extreme forms of religious homeschooling. The McIntyres sound, uh, interesting: Continue reading


What I’m Reading, April 10, 2014

Photo credit: Nemo [CC0 1.0], via PixabayOn Ignoring Sound Methodologies: Empiricism, Scientism, And Other Ways Of Knowing, Academic Atheism, April 5, 2014

Lately, there’s been a move away from either taking empirical methodology at face value, so to speak, or attempts to demonstrate its weaknesses. Instead, there’s been a move toward avoiding it and/or claiming that some other methodology is better. People who did this, however, haven’t offered any good justification for claiming their methodology is better. The issue is that such thinking is beginning to become more widespread.

That leads to any even greater problem. Effectively, what ends up happening is that such people forgo their respect for truth. They’re basically stating that their prized opinion matters more than the truth—that they want to believe despite the evidence at hand. Prior to showing why empirical methodology can’t be avoided, it is useful to deal with some accusations—accusations that have become quite persistent and that rest in a misunderstanding.

The Sham of Conservative Originalism, Ed Brayton, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, April 7, 2014

Conservative originalism has always been a sham, a pretense of objectivity where there is none. Justice Scalia, in particular, loves to lecture everyone on how his textualism and originalism are objective, as opposed to all those liberal justices who only care about the outcome of the case. That’s simply a lie. Scalia himself is absolutely an outcome-based judge; compare his opinion on the scope of the Interstate Commerce Clause in Raich to his opinion in the health care reform case from two years ago, that is all the proof you will need. There are lots and lots of ways to manipulate originalism to get the result you want, including picking and choosing which views of the founding fathers are the ones that matter.

Republican SBOE Member Asks if Non-Mexican Americans Will Be Included in Mexican-American Studies, Katherine Haenschen, Burnt Orange Report, April 9, 2014

Republican SBOE Member Ken Mercer asked during a hearing on Mexican-American Studies if Cuban-Americans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz would be included in the curriculum.

The debate centered on the potential creation of a Mexican American studies course that could be offered as an elective to the entire state. The SBOE would need to develop and approve the new course’s curriculum.

Hispanic students are the largest ethnic group in Texas public school systems. The overwhelming majority are of Mexican descent. It should be common sense that Texas public school students should be able to learn about leaders who share their heritage. After all, it seems to be working out just fine for the white kids.

The fact that Ken Mercer cannot distinguish between Cuban Americans and Mexican Americans suggests that this coursework is sorely needed.

8 Things America Gets Wrong About Sex, Amanda Duberman, Huffington Post, April 7, 2014

It’s difficult to distill America’s sexphobia into a few list-friendly factors. Rather, a puritanical seed planted around the 1700s, nourished by national identity, has grown into a sinister vine tightly wound around many of our public institutions. While antiquated laws about women and sex are lampooned for comedy and shows like “Masters Of Sex” and “Girls” are all over premium cable, the stigma around sex and sexuality persists where it hurts the most: in the classroom, doctor’s office, at political conventions and sometimes, in the voting booth.

Photo credit: Nemo [CC0 1.0], via Pixabay.


Porn and Prejudice: Letting Teenage Boys Determine School Policy With Their Libidos

I’m going to talk about sex and stuff in a minute, but first, some exposition: I frequently save links to articles that give me an idea for a blog post, but then never get around to writing the post. I also start posts, save them as drafts, then never finish them. I have over a hundred saved WordPress drafts, and countless links saved in my iCloud reading list, Evernote, Instapaper, and elsewhere. Maybe I’ll get to some of those ideas eventually, but sometimes I go through my blog post drafts and delete the ones that are hopelessly outdated. This is an attempt to consolidate ideas accumulated over months into a single post.


To be fair, the adult industry is kind of encouraging the horndogs here.

I. The Long-Winded Introduction

Teachers, at this point in American history, are not allowed to have pasts. Nor are they allowed to have much in the way of lives outside of teaching. This applies to other professions as well, but teachers seem to bear the brunt of our society’s perfectionism.

I’m going to talk a bit about sex, as well as portrayals of sex in entertainment, so stop reading if you’re easily offended. I’ll warn you if a link goes somewhere NSFW (not safe for work.) The gist of what I’m saying is that we as a society have profoundly conflicted views of sexuality, especially female sexuality. People who routinely interact with children are often expected to be effectively asexual, even if no one ever quite puts it in those terms. People who have expressed their sexuality in overt ways, from basic modeling to outright porn, while breaking no laws, often lose their jobs as teachers and in other fields. Sometimes, we can justify it as “protecting the kids,” while other times, t really makes no sense at all.

Even when it is supposedly about protecting children, what is it really teaching kids? (Disclosure: I do not have kids, but I used to be a teenage boy.) The most common justification offered for dismissing a teacher because of modeling, porn, etc. is that it creates a “disruption” or “distraction” in the school environment. I assume that this refers to the idea that students will not be able to learn as effectively because they might have seen their teacher in a state of undress or more, perhaps online.

That is, at least initially, a compelling argument. What is it actually teaching kids, though? This is not about teachers who actually have sex with their students, or who call their students “jailbait” on Twitter. Those are pretty obviously illegal and/or inappropriate. I can also see an argument against letting teachers moonlight as bikini models or whatever, but what about something a teacher did years ago? I don’t necessarily know the best answer for how to deal with it, but firing a teacher for modeling bikinis or more in the past might have more negative long-term consequences: Continue reading


The America I Know

1342516_29565745Today is a victory for many people, and a defeat for almost as many. The sun rose this morning and is still shining as I write these words, so clearly the more Biblical of the warnings we heard regarding this election have not come to pass.

Right now, we have no way of knowing what the broader lessons of the 2012 presidential election will be. I can certainly hope that the reelection of Barack Obama, as much as I may find fault with his presidency, is an affirmation of what I might call (in a secular sense) the better angels of our nature. Not everyone shares my beliefs and my views about what America is, what it can be, or what it should be, but I feel as though some of those views have been affirmed by the events of the past few weeks.

America, perhaps unlike any other nation in the world, is and always has been a work in progress. The American Revolution did not end with the Treaty of Paris in 1781, nor did the many conflicts within America end at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. The American Revolution was not just a war fought with muskets. The United States of America is the revolution, and it continues to this day. Continue reading