Learn from the lessons of others

That’s a good idea: when other countries do something better than we do, we should learn from them, try to emulate their successful parts, and avoid their failures. Here in the United States of America, though, our citizen’s bizarre and obstinate fixation on American “exceptionalism” holds sway, and suggesting that another country, like say Norway, has some better ways of doing things is regarded as unpatriotic, just shy of treachery. In a recent debate, Bernie Sanders might well be the only one able to suggest that we could learn from Denmark (but he doesn’t follow through), while Clinton rejects the thought with a smug “We are not Denmark”, and I would love to hear the squeals and shrieks if the Republican menagerie were asked to contemplate the idea, but it’s something we should take more seriously. We should try to understand what the Scandinavian countries are doing better.

What is it, though, that makes the Scandinavians so different? Since the Democrats can’t tell you and the Republicans wouldn’t want you to know, let me offer you a quick introduction. What Scandinavians call the Nordic model is a smart and simple system that starts with a deep commitment to equality and democracy. That’s two concepts combined in a single goal because, as far as they’re concerned, you can’t have one without the other.

Right there, they part company with capitalist America, now the most unequal of all the developed nations, and consequently a democracy no more. Political scientists say it has become an oligarchy, run at the expense of its citizenry by and for the superrich. Perhaps you’ve noticed that.

In the last century, Scandinavians, aiming for their egalitarian goal, refused to settle solely for any of the ideologies competing for power—not capitalism or fascism, not Marxist socialism or communism. Geographically stuck between powerful nations waging hot and cold wars for such doctrines, Scandinavians set out to find a middle path. That path was contested—by socialist-inspired workers on the one hand, and by capitalist owners and their elite cronies on the other—but in the end, it led to a mixed economy. Thanks largely to the solidarity and savvy of organized labor and the political parties it backed, the long struggle produced a system that makes capitalism more or less cooperative, and then redistributes equitably the wealth it helps to produce. Struggles like this took place around the world in the 20th century, but the Scandinavians alone managed to combine the best ideas of both camps while chucking out the worst.

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Sometimes, the truth is murkier than you’d like

The FBI has released video of the Finicum shooting in Oregon. We’ve been hearing competing stories about it: some have said that he was kneeling in surrender, his arms raised above his head, when the FBI gunned him down in cold blood. Others have said he was charging the police like Rooster Cogburn at the end of True Grit, demanding a hero’s death.

The video shows why both stories are going around. Finicum’s car crashes into the snow at a roadblock. He jumps out, arms held up, and runs away from the road, as if he thinks he can escape. But he’s surrounded. There are agents all around. He stops. He turns around. He lowers his arms and fumbles at his belt. Someone shoots, and he falls to the ground. The camera pans around (it’s on a helicopter or drone, and there is no sound), and you see a few brief flashes of gunfire and smoke — I can’t tell whether the occupants of the car are firing or being shot at. Then there is a few minutes of agents standing around, not ducking for cover, before the occupants begin to emerge with their hands up. Finicum’s body is lying in the snow, not moving.

So it’s a little of all of the stories. I think Finicum was in the heat of anger, ran out with the idea of escaping somehow, saw it was hopeless, and fumbled for a gun. I’d rather the law exercised more restraint — I could imagine that if he did pull a gun, he’d have waved it around in futile bravado before dropping it as the hopelessness of his situation sunk in — but I wasn’t there, and I can sympathize with the officers not wanting to risk getting shot at.

What a waste.

And then there were four

It looks like the Malheur occupation is ending with a whimper. Ammon Bundy has asked everyone to surrender and only 5 4 people are left in the refuge (on additional left since that last link). They’re sitting around, drinking beer. One person has died, and there’s apparently video on the way to show whether it was suicide-by-cop or an execution — given the police record on this kind of thing, I’m not even guessing whether it was one way or the other.

So…four frustrated, angry people sitting around, complaining bitterly about the evil big guvmint. It could still get bloody. They have lots of guns, and they’re stupid enough to use them.

Maybe what we need to do is just wait for the beer to run out.

Whoops, I guess Jeb! just lost my vote

I don’t think any Bush is qualified to understand how higher education works. Jeb!s latest gaffe:

There are a lot of beautiful buildings being built on college campuses, but you can’t get a course on Friday afternoon. And a professor, tenured professor, may not be teaching many more courses than one per semester.

Those lazy liberal elites! Except that he’s all wrong.

Some professors do teach one course, or even less, per semester. But those faculty have instead exchanged teaching responsibilities for greater research, lab management, and grant-writing responsibilities. Many universities allow you to buy out of teaching obligations with grant funds, but that isn’t escaping any work at all.

Anybody who knows anything about how universities work would know that what matters in the accounting is contact hours — I’m supposed to have a certain number of hours working with students directly every week, in class or in lab. It doesn’t matter when those hours happen, although we try to distribute them to meet student demand. We teaching faculty, in the hours we aren’t engaged with students, are tied up in lecture prep, grading, etc. (also, office hours don’t count as contact hours). If I get a lighter class load on Friday, it means I’ve got a heavier load other days of the week.

My current load is: two 65 minute lectures on Monday and Wednesday, three 50 minute lectures on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and two 3 hour labs on Tuesday and Thursday. I also work with our senior seminar students, which is an additional two hours a week. All those classes require additional hours of prep, and fluctuating amounts of work on grading. The lab requires lots of set up time — I started setting up fly crosses back in December. I was doing prep work on Christmas.

This is also work that gives many people the heebie-jeebies — public speaking? Seven times a week? That would horrify a great many Americans. One of the few jobs that probably requires more public speaking is politician, but there’s a difference between that and professorial work. We’re required to know what we’re talking about, and be accurate.

The beginning of the end of the Malheur occupation

Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, and several others have been arrested, and someone unnamed has been killed.

The FBI and Oregon State Police report Ammon Bundy, Ryan C. Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox and Ryan Waylen Payne were all arrested.

Officials also said there was one fatality and one person suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transferred to a local hospital.

It is unfortunate that the standoff seems to be ending (but this encounter occurred outside the refuge, and I presume the fanatics instead are still hoping for martyrdom) in violence, but I suppose it’s inevitable that people who babbled about killing or be killed weren’t going to just peaceably surrender.

Let’s hope the heart has gone out of the remaining occupiers and that the rest fades away quietly.

Uh-oh. Hillary faces the scorn of Ta-Nehisi Coates

My wife watched the Democratic town hall meeting last night — she’s becoming a fierce Sanders supporter. I mostly ignored it, so I missed this comment by Clinton, on Abraham Lincoln:

You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive. And I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.

But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.

Ta-Nehisi Coates noticed it, though. And I learned something: this version of American history has a name.

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At least they picked the right place for it

Two men got into an argument over a $25 fee in a gun shop, and what do you know, they all decided to resolve it with — you guessed it — guns. End result: two dead, two in the hospital with critical injuries.

What struck me, though, is where it occurred: Picayune, Mississippi. It seems to me unwise to be selling deadly firearms in a place where you just know petty squabbles are going to flare up all the time.

How depressed do you want to be?

Sean McElwee has been excerpts from a recent book about the Koch Brothers. What happens when cunning, obscenely rich fuckwits get it into their heads to promote their ideas by sinking money into miseducation programs?


They fill students heads with bad history, grossly oversimplified economics, and the worship of destructive policies. Well, destructive to the country, but great for billionaires.

Lesson plans and class materials obtained by The Huffington Post make the course’s message clear: The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.


The book is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer. Now I’m wondering how masochistic I am to want to read it. Talk me out of it, or so help me, I’ll download that Necrokochicon to my iPad and suffer the consequences.

He thinks this is a good thing?

I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, ok? It’s, like, incredible.

And his audience laughs?

Now that is chilling. The man thinks he’s above the law.

Of course, if he did shoot somebody in the middle of 5th Avenue, he might not lose any voters, but he’d be arrested and tried, right?

Right? Tell me he’d go to jail for a crime.