Domains19 Reflection, Well Really More of A Thanks.

I just got back from the Domains19 conference and some thanks and perhaps observations are in order.

It was a very interesting, stimulating, and useful conference. Frankly, I’ve come to expect nothing less from the ReclaimHosting crew: Jim, Tim, Lauren, Meredith, Judith, and Justin(?, we didn’t meet yet, I think).  It’s a human level conference and it’s a mix of folks from different views, backgrounds, walks, and interests, united by an deep emotional and rational commitment to learning and making the world better for people.  All people.

Actually, I don’t think I have that much “observation” to put into this yet. I can feel differences but can’t articulate them yet. Domains is like that for me.  I’m still in the absorbing, thinking, and non-verbal stage. The best conference experiences are ones where you leave as a different person than you arrived  but it’s your agency and connection to others that changed you.

Good Job, Reclaim.

via GIPHY

As a former biz strategist and now economist, it’s fun to watch Jim Groom and Reclaim grow. I think Jim said this their sixth year(?) and I believe I’ve been a customer for 5 of them.  It’s exciting to see the group start to navigate the difficulties of maintaining the spirit, soul, and mission that motivated the original founding while they grow and add people.  So far, so good. I like what I see.  It’s no secret that I think higher education is and should be, at its core, a commons. In my opinion, Reclaim is a model of how a for-profit company can serve and interact with a commons in ways that don’t extract from or enclose the commons but instead actually further it.

There’s way too many people that were at the conference for me to start naming all the folks I learned from or thought it was great to see. Many are long-time fellow travelers in this open space, others are long-time Internet fellow travelers that I now know for certain are in-the-flesh humans, and others that I just met for first time. Thank you all.

 

Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

How do you know that? Why do you think that?  How does that make any sense?  

I was a highly opinionated child with a lot of crazy ideas. But my Dad was patient. He never told me “that’s crazy” or “that’s wrong”.  Instead he usually greeted my pronouncements with some variation of those three questions and often he strung them together into a dialogue.  I’d answer and he’d ask the next question or repeat the first.  At some age, I don’t really recall when,  I began to internalize those questions and the resulting dialogue.  When I got to college I had the chance to study rhetoric and semantics. I added my own questions to his three.

Why these words? What do they want me to think/feel/do? Why are they saying this?

I guess these questions are what the education folks call “critical thinking”. What I know is that we’d be better off asking these questions when we read. I’ve been reading lots of stories, tweets, and posts about “fake news” websites and the need for improved “fact-checking” and digital literacy.  But I’m not too sure we’re getting at the problem. The problem is a lack of critical thinking as my Dad would have approached.  Instead, people seem to be emphasizing the following questions:

What are the “facts”? Is this true? Is this a “legitimate” news site? Should I trust this source? How do we filter out the “fake news”?

These are the wrong questions. They won’t lead to critical insight. They’ll only lead to more deception and propaganda.  I see two problems with these questions people are posing.

First, everything cannot be reduced to some “fact” status as either true or not true. I don’t want to get into some deep philosophical exploration of the nature of truth, I just want to point out any statement of the future  or intentions is inherently speculative and cannot be “fact checked”. All statements of policy intents are statements about the future.   A person can lie about their intents (and even lie to themselves) but it cannot be “fact checked”. The lie can only be challenged by building an argument of reasoning why the person should not be believed. Further the class of things that can be called “facts” includes only objectively verifiable things. Yet subjective things matter too. Feelings, preferences, and perceptions cannot be “fact-checked”. Culture is made of more feelings and perceptions than it is facts.

I could elaborate on the inadequacy of “fact-checking” and likely will in some future post, but right now I want to focus on the second issue: the problems involved in focusing on “legitimate” vs. “fake” news sites.  This isn’t really critical thinking at all. It’s a reliance on authority as the sole arbiter of truth. It’s actually the approach that says we don’t have to engage the actual message itself and critically think about it. This approach advises to divide the world into approved “legitimate” news sources, presumably nice establishment entities such as the New York Times, or Washington Post, or ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN.  I suppose whether Fox News qualifies depends on whether you’re Republican or Democrat.  But other sources are deemed suspicious and likely to be “fake”.  Folks, the problem isn’t whether the news publisher is “legit” it’s whether the news story itself is “legit”.  Big difference.

Let me use a story that has made the rounds in the last day or so.  The Washington Post published a story with the headline:
Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

Almost instantly, the Twittersphere and blogosphere lit up with mostly unhappy Clinton supporters claiming this is the biggest news story and everybody is missing it.  And yet, the Washington Post site fails on all my Dad’s questions. There’s nothing really there. And when I ask myself about their semantics and ask myself “cui bono?” from this piece, I find it seriously lacking.  I don’t have to take it apart for you because Fortune magazine and journalist Caitlin Johnstone, quoting Glenn Greenwald, did it for me.  You can read for yourself:

Fortune:  Russian Fake News

Caitlyn Johnstone on Newslogue: Glenn Greenwald Just Beat The Snot Out Of Fake News Rag ‘The Washington Post’

(update 28Nov2016: An even better critical thinking take-down of the Washington Post article from William Black at New Economic Perspectives: The Washington Post’s Propaganda About Russian Propaganda )

I’ll reiterate what I’ve said on Twitter and FB.  We shouldn’t be calling out “fake news” sites. We shouldn’t even be calling out “fake news”.  We should call it what it is: propaganda.  Calling it “fake news” will mislead us and get all of us into trouble.  It leads to binary thinking: is this “true” or “fake”?  The problem is propaganda. The most effective propaganda is neither true nor fake. It contains at least some elements of truth or facts but uses rhetorical sleight of hand to get you to believe something you really don’t know. We used to call it spin, but I guess that’s gone out of style.

Let’s remember “legitimate” news sources can and often do deliver propaganda, “fake news” if you will, just as easily and even more effectively than any “fake news sites” spun up by some troll teenager in his basement.

I’m old enough to remember that the legitimate news sources delivered the news to us about Gulf of Tonkin incident and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and anthrax.   Those were propaganda, “fake news”, spun up to work the nation up to war. They worked unfortunately and hundreds of thousands died. Indeed, the march to war is always accompanied by the whole hearted support of the merchants of death and the “legitimate” news sources.

Crying “Russians! Russians!” is dangerous. Accepting such stories uncritically is even more dangerous.  It allows people, especially establishment Democrats, to ignore their own culpability in creating this disaster of an impending Trump presidency. But even more dangerous is it feeds the war machine. We have a populace that wants to look elsewhere to blame their problems: Republicans want to blame Arabs, Muslims, and immigrants.  Now Democrats are crying to blame Russians.  That way lies madness. Let’s remember, when it comes to world wars, it’s three strikes and we’re all out.

So I humbly ask that we all ask ourselves as we read these days: Who’s zoomin’ here?

hat tip to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin for the inspiration for the post.  Enjoy:

 

 

Remodeling

I’m trying out a new look.  I’ve updated the theme as long-time viewers can tell.  The new theme has a few advantages over the old one.  First, it’s a “responsive” theme.  That means that it should automagically adjust to the width of whatever browser you’re using.  If you view it on a smart phone, it should push the side-bar stuff down to the bottom so the main text is more readable. And, as long as I can resist the urge to create a menu of tabs across the top, it should retain the fluid-width aspect of the old one.

Another reason for changing is that WordPress.com (the host for the blog) is really pushing it.  The old theme isn’t being updated.  We’ll just have to see if I get the spacing on the graphs right.

The new them also makes it easy for me to add short “Aside” posts.  I’m going to try to adding some of these usually as links to articles I find interesting but don’t have time to write a full commentary.

Anyway, I’m interested in any comments on either the theme or other ideas to make the blog more readable or useful (short of recommendations that I replace the author!).

jim

Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving Holiday here in the U.S.

I just want to take a moment to thank all of those who help make my life rich and rewarding. They include:

  • my wife and son.  I couldn’t do this all without you.
  • my extended family
  • you, my readers on this blog, it’s been fun and inspiring to see so many people come to the site.  Evidently I’m helping you learn things because you keep referring the site to friends.  Thanks.
  • my students, whose perseverance and curiosity make the teaching fun
  • especially all of my colleagues at the college.  My fellow professors, whose dedication, constant effort, and support have been an enormous inspiration to me, especially with strategic planning project.
  • the college and the people of Michigan and Lansing who provide me the opportunity to teach.
  • the people of Ohio and Michigan who supported the schools and universities that nurtured my learning and education.
  • the people of Occupy wherever for their inspiration and courage.

To all, thanks.

 

 

Malartu, My Other Project

This is only tangentially related to economics, but I’m pretty excited about some coverage I got for my other project (besides blogging here and teaching at LCC).  If you teach in higher education yourself, you might be interested.  If so, contact me.  The article is from Converge Magazine yesterday:

Economics Professor Starts Designing Tools for Faculty That Meet Their Needs

By Tanya Roscorla
on November 21, 2011 Policy

While vendors make plenty of technology platforms and services that serve students, most of them don’t meet professors’ needs, according to the experience of Jim Luke, an economics professor from Lansing College.

They require a major time investment and make professors’ jobs harder, he said.

“Just in 10 years the amount of time and work it takes to be a good teacher has just really skyrocketed, and a good bit of it is because of the software and the systems. They are not friendly and easy to use.”

While billions of dollars pour into campus enterprise technology and services for students, few people look at the teacher’s job. And few people create tools for teachers that they need.

For these reasons, Luke decided to start a nonprofit called Malartu Inc. While projects exist in the early stages, he hopes that the tools he envisions will help professors be more productive and effective.

Please read the rest of the article here as it describes our plans for TheProfNet and Curriculum Intelligence.

Free Speech, Free Worship, Private Property, Facts and Terry Jones

Normally I try to keep this blog focused on explaining economic issues and concepts.  But in the past few days there’s a political issue has arisen that’s literally very close to home for me and I feel the need to speak out.

Last week, Terry Jones and his assistant Warren Sapp of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida came to Dearborn, Michigan with the announced intent to protest at the Islamic Center of America, a very large mosque in Dearborn. Jones and Sapp are the characters who threatened to hold a bonfire burning hundreds of copies of the Koran last September, igniting worldwide protests. The burning last September was cancelled after the Gainesville, FL fire department refused a burning permit.  At the time Jones and Sapp bowed to pressure and said they promised not to publicly burn the Koran.  They lied.  In March 2011, they held a public “trial” of book and then publicly burned a copy.

Jones and Sapp also announced last month that they would come to Dearborn on April 22, 2011 to protest the “spread of sharia law” in Dearborn. They stated they would come to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn and burn a Koran. On the day of the scheduled “protest” Jones and Sapp found themselves in court in Dearborn with the prosecutor asking the court for Jones and Sapp to post a “peace bond”. Following a hearing before a jury, the judge ordered a $1 peace bond and ordered Jones and Sapp to stay away from the mosque for 3 years.

The national media has greatly misreported both the facts and the issues in this case. The case is close to home for me because I live in Dearborn. The media have been reporting that this is a pure free speech case and that the prosecutor was trying to keep Jones from protesting or keep Jones from saying his message.  That is simply not the case.  Let me repeat some facts that commentators not familiar with Dearborn don’t tell you.

First, to understand the need for the peace bond or restraining order, it’s necessary to know a little about the physical geography of the site.  Here’s a link to a satellite view Google map of the location where Jones had planned to protest.  Please note, there’s no public property available for assembling a protest at the site.  To hold his planned protest, Jones was threatening to trespass on private property, the mosque itself.  There is no first amendment right to free speech on other people’s private property!  

The only alternative for Jones would have been to block traffic on Altar Road.  Altar Road is a dead-end street with only access at one end. There is no free speech right to block traffic on a public street without at least getting a city parade permit first, which Jones did not do.  In fact, if Jones had implemented his planned protest on the public roadway of Altar Road, he would have blocked access to not only the mosque, but to the five other churches (all Christian) that are located on Altar Road next to the mosque. For all those who claim Jones has a first amendment right to protest and block Altar Road, I ask how does Jones’ first amendment rights trump the first amendment rights of the members of the other churches to worship?  Keep in mind that Jones was threatening to either trespass the mosque or block traffic on Good Friday when those other churches were holding services.  To claim that Jones should have been allowed to hold his protest is to claim that Jones has the right to prevent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Dearborn residents, both Christian and Muslim, the right to worship as they see fit. 

So it’s not a clear-cut case of freedom of speech as the media would have us believe.  There’s also issues of private property and freedom of worship (another first amendment right).  But the city also had legitimate concerns for public safety.

The city’s concerns for public safety aren’t with the prospect of some crazed Dearborn Muslims rioting in the street over Jones’s presence or the burning of a Koran.  Our community is too peaceful for that.  Indeed, the Mosque was planning alternative peaceful activities to take attention away from Jones.  No, the threat comes from Jones himself and from the crazed outsiders he would attract.  It was only 3 months ago that we in Dearborn were fortunate to narrowly escape a plot to bomb this very same mosque.  A crazed man from California attempted to take a car loaded with explosives and blow up the mosque.  The attempt was only stopped by a quick police response to a tip from an alert Dearborn bartender.  We have recent experience with hate-crazed people coming from out-of-town and trying to blow up the mosque!  Forgive us if we have concerns about another dangerous hate-crazed man from out-of-town bringing guns and/or explosives.

Make no mistake, Jones is a direct threat to public safety. On the night before the planned protest, Jones recklessly discharged a firearm in public. After attending a new interview at TV station on Thursday evening, Jones got in his car and discharged his .40 caliber pistol.  Jones has a concealed carry weapon permit from Florida.  Under reciprocity rules, Michigan recognizes such a permit.  But a concealed carry weapon permit is not a license to discharge the firearm at any time or to not keep the weapon under control.  When approached by police, Jones claimed it was an “accident”.  Either Jones intended to do something else with the gun and lied when confronted by police, or Jones is an idiot who doesn’t keep the safety on his gun and doesn’t have control of it.  This guy was further threatening to trespass at a church (the mosque) the next day.  In Michigan, possession of guns is illegal on church property, even with a concealed carry permit.

Contrary to what Jones and his apologists in the media claim, Jones has not been stopped from protesting in Dearborn. In fact, the Mayor actually welcomed him and asked him to do his protest on public property in front of city hall. What Jones has encountered is a  peace bond.  It’s like a restraining order.  The essence of the order is that Jones not trespass on the mosque property for three years. That’s it.  He’s free to return and protest to his heart’s delight.  But he has to do it on public property.  He is not entitled to trespass on private property to spew hatred at the owners of the property.  He is not free to keep others from worshiping at the church of their choice.  He is not free to threaten the safety of others by violating our gun laws.

I take a back set to no one in my support for free speech and Constitution’s bill of rights.  But this isn’t a case of government trying to restrain political speech of crazy hate-filled man (see also here).  It’s a case of government trying to protect the rights of thousands of citizens to worship as they see fit and to be safe and secure on their own private property.  I know that doesn’t fit the media’s preferred drama, but that’s the facts.