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Archive for Life

March 14, 2019 — And how many more?

You’ll notice that we led off yesterday’s blog entry with two seemingly isolated stories.

This is the one regarding admissions fraud at LSU, and this is the one at the University of Pennsylvania. Taken together with yesterday’s indictment of 50 administrators, coaches and parents, that’s enough to make you think there’s a problem.

But William Singer, the man behind the admissions fraud and broker between parents and universities, has admitted to 761 fraudulent admissions — 20 times what were documented in yesterday’s charging documents.

Now, that’s remarkable enough, the damage that one man has done to the higher education system in the United States.

The question is, how many other self-styled education brokers, go-betweens, and hangers on are there? And we’re not just talking about the cesspool of intercollegiate football and men’s basketball. We know that there are plenty of Sonny Vaccaros, Lonnie Balls, and Curtis Malones out there trading favors for athletic talent.

But how many other side-door deals have there been made over the years? Hundreds? Thousands? Every time a name goes up on a building on one of America’s 5,300 colleges, universities, and trade schools, should you assume that the only reason was that money changed hands?

I’d like to think that certain kinds of naming are as memorials to great people in the past; two of the main buildings at my old high school were named for bishops in the Episcopal Church. The third, however, was named for a wealthy donor who, frankly, saved the school two decades ago.

But now that Harvard Medical School has the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University has the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell has the Zuckerberg School of Health Sciences, it’s hard to know where the university ends and the benefactor begins.

March 6, 2019 — Sidney Verba, 1932-2019

There are three books which have, more than any others, informed my worldview on public administration and civics.

One of these is The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. It was co-written by Sidney Verba, who died earlier this week. He and co-author Gabriel Almond oversaw about a thousand interviews with citizens of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Mexico, in an attempt to ascertain what affects the political compact between the citizen and the government.

In this tome, and in later scholarship, he hit upon the concept of participation and “the citizen’s voice” as the driving force behind government and public administration.

In the last 20 years, with the proliferation of the Internet and social media as information sources, Verba’s thesis has been put to the test, especially with large money sources being poured into influencing elections on Facebook and YouTube. But with social media and crowdfunding creating a bumper crop of new faces in the U.S. House of Representatives (in comparison to the very white and very male Senate), the central question framing Vebra’s work remains as prescient as it was 55 years ago: “Whose voice is being heard by the government?”

Makes you wonder.

Feb. 14, 2019 — A counter-movement against billionaires?

Earlier this week, it was announced that Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, had broken off negotiations with the NFL’s Washington Redskins to build a new stadium to replace the current FedEx Field, which was built in Landover in 1997 — only about 20 years ago.

Today, it was announced that Amazon would not be building a segment of its headquarters — codenamed HQ2, in Long Island City, N.Y. after local opposition led in part by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Time was, billionaires such as Daniel Snyder and Jeff Bezos could approach governments and demand all kinds of incentives — tax abatements, land giveaways, and such — and get them.

But infrastructure has become pricier ever since the original study on this subject by Andrew Zimbalist and Roger Noll. Indeed, entire societies have been lured by the promise of economic development, and have found themselves, for lack of a better word, fleeced.

Brazil, which held the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, now has a raft of sports stadiums which sit empty. It’s the latest country which saw its people shift its wealth to line the pockets of members of FIFA and the IOC’s cronies.

I’m so glad that Gov. Hogan and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez have shown courage and leadership against billionaire owners. I’m hoping this is just the start.

Feb. 11, 2019 — A civic duty

Later this week, your Founder is going to take part in a necessary part of the American democracy.

Your Founder has been called into jury service.

I’m kind of glad it occurred in February, when there isn’t much in the way of field hockey or lacrosse on the scholastic level (South Carolina excepted). But as much of an inconvenience as the act of jury duty is, it’s something that is needed, to be able to fill out that jury of (more or less) 12 average citizens.

I haven’t been on a jury for about a decade; the last time was to convict an up-and-coming young athlete in a special drugs court for possession of crack cocaine.

I never got to know what happened in the sentencing phase of the trial. That was not under this jury’s purview. All we were supposed to do was to ascertain guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Years on, I do wonder if this particular judge was one of a number whose sentences have had to have been scrutinized or altered because of harsh sentencing for possession of crack as opposed to powder cocaine.

I wonder what will happen this week, too.

Feb. 7, 2019 — A color choice

Today, I made a conscious choice to wear orange.

It’s not necessarily because of my affinity towards a particular sport or sports team, but it was a shout-out to my graduate school, The Maxwell School of Syracuse University. It has been more or less the top-ranked school for public administration the last two decades.

I have a deep and firm belief in the goodness of governance and public trust. A people, united behind good leadership, can form communities and societies where people take care of themselves and each other, build roads and bridges, and make a good living.

The last week has tested my beliefs, especially when I look at what has been going on in Virginia.

Three high-ranking officials have come under scandalous scrutiny for things that they had done in their past.

As they should.

The thing is, the whole blowup has occurred only a few days before the effective end of the legislative session. There is business to get done, laws to get passed, budgets to be put into place.

After all of the punditry over the weekend and the wailing and gnashing of teeth, I find it interesting that the scandals have not (yet) shifted the focus off of the work at hand.

Which may be the miracle of this entire enterprise. After all, we are in a different era in our national politics.

Jan. 26, 2019 — Finishing a package, and, perhaps, an era in history

This morning, I pulled out a Ziploc bag from my refrigerator. It had a date and a name on it. The contents were some handmade flour tortillas.

The story behind my breakfast is that these tortillas were made by a friend of mine who had to turn to production of the Mexican food staple in order to make ends meet. She’s a lawyer for one of the armed services who, like some 800,000 people in the last month or so, have not been drawing a Federal paycheck because of the U.S. government shutdown.

The last month has opened up not only a certain solidarity amongst people who are in public service, but it has ramped up what has been called “the gig economy.” There’s a large underground economy of part-time work which has included on-demand transportation, food sales, and the making of art. I’ve made it a point to try to help out that economy for people who, for no fault of their own, have not had a job to do.

Fortunately, by this coming week, things should be back to normal when it comes to the workday.

Even the traffic. But that’s another story.

Jan. 5, 2019 — A thought experiment inspired by a celebrity’s passing

I grew up watching Penny Marshall’s tour-de-force take on working-class life in 1950s-era Milwaukee in the situation comedy Laverne & Shirley.

And like many of my peers, I noticed that the sitcom has not aged well. Some of the subject matter involving working women, race, and the portrayal of Italian-Americans is a bit grating when you recognize it.

But when Penny Marshall died last month, I found myself drawn to perhaps the single most memorable feature of the show: the prominent cursive “L” that was on just about every item of clothing the character of Laverne DeFazio wore.

Having been around a lot of vintage clothing enthusiasts in my life, I’ve been interested to see how much this kind of oversized monogramming was prominent in the 1950s, when the show started.

Apparently, it wasn’t.

I also came to the conclusion that even the average unionized female worker of the time (she and best friend Shirley Feeney were bottlers at a Milwaukee brewery) likely could not have afforded identical monograms on every blouse, dress, and sweater in her closet.

I know, I know, this is me, overthinking a fictional television show.

But I do wonder if the appliques had a basis in fact — aside from the kitschy poodle skirts of the era.