Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gun Laws and the Knoxville Shooting

Since the shooting at Tennessee Valley UU Church, I've been waiting for the obvious response from Gunnitistan: That the answer is to allow concealed carry in churches. The first on my radar screen, via this week's Carnival, is Conservative Culture.

Let's acknowledge a few obvious points. First, great caution should be exercised in drawing public policy conclusions from any data set in which n=1. Second, Conservative Culture isn't exactly the brightest star in the Rightysphere constellation. Using this post as foil is little better than constructing a straw man. Apologies in advance.

Third (and less obvious) massacre prevention shouldn't be our primary focus in gun policy. Massacres inflict a horrible psychic toll and make big splashy news, but they amount to less than a rounding error in the overall homicide rate. If we find that Policy Change X would prevent some massacres but increase the overall homicide/assault rate, then on balance X is not good policy.

Much of ConCult's post is directed at criticizing the "liberal thinking" at the UU Church. Thanks for that. Probably some conservative comment on the tragedy hasn't included some sort of criticism of the politics and/or theology of the church, but I have yet to find it. The shooting seems to have inspired a small ebb in "Kill the Libruls" rhetoric since some guy decided to actually do that, so we have that going for us. Which is nice.

And by the way, the criticism is a bit off the mark. Ethical pacifism is not an integral part of UU theology (you are closer to that in Quaker and Mennonite churches, though even there CC's depiction is probably a bit off).

In our church few if any people would say that the man shooting at them should be spared if someone has the shot. Where we differ is the level of glee. We would find the death of one more person a tragedy, if a necessary one that on balance saved lives. We wouldn't be all "He's dead -- Yay!" Personally I'm glad he's still alive, if for no other reason than his plan was to commit suicide by cop and it's a Good Thing that any plans of this hateful bastard were thwarted.

Anyway, on to the gun issue. Experience with massacres shows that guns at the scene of a massacre may lower the death toll, but won't prevent massacres. Massacre assailants have almost invariably intended to die in the assault, rendering deterence meaningless. They also start blasting before anyone knows what is happening, meaning that people will likely die before anyone can return fire. Looking at the Colorado Springs massacre (n=2), the assailant managed to kill two people despite the fact that the church had an armed security guard on duty.

On the other hand, the Tennessee shooting illustrates the value of restricting assault weapons. While most assailants use multiple semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazine, Jim Adkisson used a shotgun that he had to reload after three shots. That's when the congregants had a chance to tackle him and prevent further carnage.

I'll concede that guns among congregants might make people safer, so long as those congregants are well-trained and fairly balanced. For personal reasons, that's not the choice I'd make for my church, but I see the argument.

Unfortunately Gunnutistan insists that regulating high-powered assault weapons and banning high-capacity mags is a half step from throwing us all in irons. Twenty round magazines are necessary for nothing but killing large numbers of humans at a time. Yet the gun lobby fights every common sense gun restriction, arguing that the only possible solution to the problems posed by guns is more guns.

Pray for us.

Catalyst Ohio Poll re: Strickland's Education Plans

Catalyst Ohio, a non-profit magazine from which I occasionally get freelance work, is conducting an online poll regarding Strickland's plan to consolidate state education administration. As it happens, that's a central theme of my (long-delayed) take on the Guv's education town hall last week, so I'll push off that post yet again. For now, please click through the link and take the survey.

Here's the message from Catalyst:

    Hello Catalyst Reader,

    Here's your chance to weigh in on an issue critical to improving Ohio's schools.

    What do you think of Gov. Ted Strickland's proposal to appoint a cabinet-level director of education, which would relegate the Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State School Board to the role of advisors?

    Please click on Go to Catalyst Quiz on right and take a minute to share your views.
The link pulls up your default email program with an email to the Editor with the subject line that let's them know it's a survey response.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jimmy DiMora in Context

I'll assume you haven't been in a coma the last few days and are aware of the massive raid on offices and homes in Cuyahoga County, and the public corruption investigation of Cuy. Co. Commissioner and Dem Party Chair Jimmy DiMora, among others.

Right now many shoes must drop before we know the nature of the wrongdoing and the extent of the corruption. In the meantime, this month's Governing magazine (via their blog) has an interesting article on federal investigation and prosecution of state and local corruption. After a set piece about ongoing prosecutions in Alabama, we get to the thesis:

    There's no disputing that the feds are going after a lot of state and local officeholders these days. Since 2002, both the number of public corruption cases and the number of FBI agents devoted to such cases has increased by more than 50 percent. But is it because there's been a sudden spike of mischief in office? Or is it more an epidemic of prosecutorial zeal and ambition? Those are not easy questions to answer. But they're increasingly important to ask.
The article goes on to describe the possible partisan dimensions of the spike in prosecutions, some of the squishy Federal laws used and, most importantly, how states reform laws after a prosecution reveals corruption. Worth a read.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Shooting in Tennessee

The shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee has affected all of us -- myself to the point of groping for words. I've spent hours shifting from updates in the Knoxville papers to blog posts to my own blank posting screen.

It's too early to try to make sense of What All This Means. Right now we're grieving. We are grieving the loss of the two members who died in a twisted soul's feeble attempt at a blaze of glory.

And we grieve the loss of the illusion of safety. Jim Adkisson's actions don't make my church any less safe than it was two days ago. But there is a difference between appreciating intellectually that terrible things can happen without warning versus a visceral knowledge based on a real live terrible thing.

As UUs we believe ours is a chosen faith. That is, we attend church not because God commands us to but because we choose to seek out God. That choice takes on a special resonance with the knowledge that two of our fellow members lost their lives as a result of it.

Happily, others have found the words that elude me. A round-up. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations quickly built a site for expressions of support using the Blogger platform. Also, Sara at Orcinus wrote beautiful piece on the strength of liberal religion. Street Prophets has a good post up including thoughts based on other Orcinus posts about eliminationist rhetoric in conservative thought. Other UU bloggers weighing in include Philocrites who has been following the story piece by piece, ChaliceBlog and Yet Another UU.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ted in Town Today

Governor Strickland's Conversations on Education road show comes to Akron today. It looks like I'm going, though plans can change quickly here at the House of Pho.

The event itself is invite-only. People interested are invited to stream it on the web or attend a watch party. As to the latter, the ones being held for this session are in Stark County and Coventry. For live streaming, the Gov's site offers this FAQ. The meeting will be broadcast at 10 on Time Warner, though it's not clear if on Channel 16 or 23.

For my part, I'll take notes and write a post. I'm not going to try to lug in the laptop to liveblog and have given up mobile blogging to Blogger. But I'm on Twitter now and will probably tweet a couple things. You can check that out here.

The reviews on Strickland's education agenda, to the extent we know what it is, have been decidedly mixed. I expect this will be a cagey affair, but hopefully we will have a little more clue where he is going by the end.

The Silence and the Reasons Therefore

It would be easy enough to say I’m busy and leave it at that for why the blog hasn’t been updated in over a week . That’s true enough. This has been my busiest summer yet, especially in terms of schlepping kids from one camp/lesson/playdate to the next. In addition I have some exciting writing opportunities to work on, a syllabus to complete and plenty of projects around the house.

But that’s not it, or at least not entirely. Fact is, blogging has been far less fun lately than in the past. Back in the day (“the day” in this case being c. 2006) the Ohio political leftysphere had a much different vibe. We were a community, interested in politics and hoping our people won, but also interested in building up as a whole this thing called blog. The Meet the Bloggers project provided some of the glue holding that community together, but even those who didn’t participate in MTB were part of the conversation.

That community – my community – doesn’t really exist anymore. Some members moved on, from blogging altogether or blog far less frequently. Others have moved to other areas of blogging or up the blog food chain.

Those who remain and those who have taken their place treat this thing differently. Nowadays blogging is more competitive – explicit discussions of who has better traffic or links or “influence” pop up with discomforting frequency. And the focus is not on having an ongoing conversation about how to make the world better, but on winning – both in the blogosphere and in November.
As a result, the community is gone, replaced by a club. No one ever said it was a club (at least not publicly) and no one ever said who was in and out, but without doubt the winners have chosen those who are part of the club and ignore those who are not.

At this point I should say that it is not my intention to indict people for how things have gone. What has happened is the result of choices made by people far more successful at blogging than I, and those choices are not wrong in any objective sense, they just are not the choices that I would prefer (and trust me, if I were calling people out, you would have a very specific catalogue of who’s to blame and their misdeeds.)

I also apologize if any of this sounds whiny. I’m fine with the fruits of my blogging and, given the choice, I would change little of what I’ve done here. My only intent is to explain (to those few of you who care) why this blogger has found the whole enterprise far less enjoyable and therefore hasn’t been at it lately.

And I’m feeling wistful about the community has passed. The whole community thing gets overused, but upon attending a blogger meetup last week (my first in over a year), it all came back to me how it was and how much more fun it was back then. Not that the change should be a surprise. The best human institutions only string together a few Brief Shining Moments before drifting off course, and in the electronic age, those shining moments seem ever briefer.

And yet, I’m back. A few things have happened. First off, two of my favorite commenters got into a great discussion on last week's sole post. That plus meeting old (in adjusted blog terms) friends at the meetup, plus the fairly impressive traffic numbers while I was gone, plus some real-world conversations have suggested that the Pages still exist in some tattered remnant of a community.

In addition to that, some writing opportunities are presenting themselves and the standing advice for freelancers is 1) start a blog and 2) don’t let it go out of date. Last year between teaching and the blog and my one standing writing gig, not much time remained to build the freelance business. But if I’m to be serious about freelancing, I also need to keep up the maintenance around here.

So I’m going to start showing up around here more. But my plan is to be less part of the broader Ohio leftysphere and concentrate on what this thing was at the start – a place for my personal venting and, above all else, fun. I will wade at best infrequently into the dispiriting food fight that is the national campaign. I spend less time keeping up with news and more time digging into those bits that are interesting and little discussed. Above all else, I’m more interested in generating conversations about where we are and where we need to go as a society than carrying water for any one politician or badgering you all to agree with me.

And with that, I'm back, more or less.

Monday, July 14, 2008


For real, yesterday. I led worship at church and delivered a sermon on church and state plus a bit on the state of our church. I posted it on the seldom-updated, rarely read church blog. It includes much of my take on church/state and may be something I refer to from time to time on the topic.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Carnival of Politics #125

Can be found here. After posting garage band anthems and junk psuedopunk in the past, we've embraced the classics this time.

Census Data: Ohio Population Shift Continues

Analysis of the latest census data shows that some midwestern cities are growing modestly -- but none around here. Cleveland continues to lose people like it's on fire. Akron is shrinking, though much more slowly.

Most of Ohio's major cities are shrinking; Cleveland is the top loser nationwide, with Dayton and Toledo appearing among the top ten shrinking cities. But Columbus continues to post impressive gains and Cincinnati is growing as well.

No surprises, really. The old-line manufacturing cities shrink. The winners have knowledge-based industries (e.g. insurance in Columbus, P&G et al. in Cincy). Akron continues to make the transition, though time will tell how successfully.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

This Probably Could Have Been Phrased Better.

From today's Dispatch story about Ohio possibly resuming executions:

    New Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the former dean of the Moritz School of Law at Ohio State University, could face an execution before she leaves office following the Nov. 4 election.
Either Ohio instituted a harsh, post-Dann zero tolerance policy or one got by the editor.

Wingnut, But Not Moonbat, Added to the Dictionary.

From the PD via Plunderbund we learn that "wing nut" meaning "one who advocates extreme measures or changes : radical" will be added to the next edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary, and already appears online. No such entry, as of this year, for "moonbat."

This is sorta kinda fitting and sorta kinda not, given that Merriam-Webster is the leading liberal redoubt in the usage wars.

The what? You ask.

The language usage wars. In this age of hyper-politicization of everything, there are opposing camps even in an activity as dry and academic as writing dictionaries. In a review of Bryan Garner's1 A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, David Foster Wallace2 ledes:

    Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of US lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a near-Lewinskian scale?
    For instance, did you know that some modern dictionaries are notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative, and that certain conservative dictionaries were actually conceived and designed as corrective responses to the "corruption" and "permissiveness" of certain liberal dictionaries?

    * * *
    Did you know that US lexicography even had a seamy underbelly?

So Merriam Webster, being the most liberal, subscribes to a "descriptionist" methodology. Their mission is (supposedly) to catalog all the words people use and all the meanings they attach to those words. The conservative dictionaries -- the very conservatively named American Heritage Dictionary being something of the, well Heritage Foundation to Webster's Brookings in this field -- is prescriptivist. That is, they tell the rest of us what the language is, no arguments, and how anything outside the hard covers of AHD is simply wrong.

Example: While Merriam-Webster is adding a number of internet-derived words like malware and webinar, American Heritage has yet to include "blog." Gotta be painful for the Pajamas Media crowd.

As for the definition itself, I dissent. If Merriam-Webster really wants to be the descriptionists bible, they should pay closer attention to how people use the words. "Wing nut" is used consistently to denote an extreme conservative, not simply a radical of either wing. The counterpart for conservative derision of fringe lefties is "moonbat."3 Including4 a definition for wing nut without the fringe dweller across the aisle is simply wrong, descriptively speaking.5

1Yes, this Bryan Garner. It's somewhat ironic he apparently so opposes substantive footnotes given that one of the truly abject raves of his book -- and one worthy of a jacket quote, at least according to the publishers -- includes 80 footnotes over 56 pages of text as reproduced in the collection Consider the Lobster.

2My favorite living writer of both fiction and non-fiction and an enduring influence upon my own writing. For instance, I won't say that the blog would never include footnotes were it not for DFW, but his use of the device both as a writing tool and as a means for making meta points about language has certainly pushed me in an influence/homage/cheap imitation (depending on how you want to look at it) sort of way.

3Or if you are Matt Naugle and are describing anyone to the left of, say, Newt Gingrich, the term is "socialist." But whaddya expect from a wing nut?

4More accurately, expanding the existing definition vis-a-vis wing nut since the word already existed as denoting a piece of hardware.

5Which is a problem with the whole descriptivists project -- it's simply impossible to capture every construct and change of nuance, meaning at some point you choose and with that make the sorts of value judgments that descriptivists supposedly oppose. For more, see Foster's essay.

About a Blog

Anyone who has frequented the Pages for longer than a year or so knows that summer is not my best time. With the kids out of school, summer is when I earn my lack of a paycheck. And this summer is more hectic than most as I've got a few projects going.

On top of all that I seriously jacked up my back over the weekend, so sitting in a desk chair long enough to blog is not high on my list.

All of which is to say apologies for the long absence and I will attempt to get back to a regular blogging schedule. Sometime.

In addition, some attentive readers might have noticed this post entitled simply "Mobile." That was me attempting to blog from my new smart phone. So far I haven't been able to do more than that. Needless to say, once we get that up and running I may be able to do more.

I've gotten poked on a couple of legal issues and haven't reached the end of the Brunner case yet. Given the apparently slow news week, those are my priorities for now.

Finally, I'm up for the Carnival of Politics this week. Submissions are trickling in. My plan is to compile tomorrow morning, so send submissions to OhioPolCarnival[at]gmail[dot]com for inclusion.

Have a good, sweltering Ohio July day.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ohio Dot Com's New Law Blawg

The Community Blogs section of Ohio dot com has a new member: Akron Law Cafe. The bloggers are four professors from the University of Akron School of Law.

You can read the mission statement here. Essentially they hope to foster a deeper understanding of the law among nonlawyers, always a laudable goal.

As you can imagine, I'm familiar with the players -- familiar enough that I've known for some time that this was in the works. In fact, I've been invited to do some guest posting on occasion, though we're still talking about what that will look like.

In the meantime, it's a solid group of bloggers, with the usual cache of posts up before they go live. Surf over and have a cup.


Strickland's Education Forum Coming to Akron

Governor Ted Strickland has announced that one of his twelve planned "education forums" will be in Akron at North High School on July 23. The Governor has started a website, Conversations on Education to facilitate/publicize the listening tour. The url embedded on Ohio dot com doesn't seem to work for the website. You can try here or here.

The Governor has gotten grief for not fixing either the schools themselves or the school funding mess as of yet. It always seemed to me that any proposal would come after the midterm elections. First, because such a proposal takes time. The Governor committed to getting input, particularly from the business community. Being pretty much a pro-business D, that's what he would have done anyway, plus anyone paying attention to the GIRFOF mess knows that the effort was doomed as soon as the business community spoke out against it.

Also, any proposal prior to midterms becomes a political football. The R's would have to oppose it regardless of merit or risk handing the statehouse over to the D's. Which brings up the third factor -- once it became apparent that generic D's would do well in the midterm, Strickland's best bet is to wait until the November smoke clears to see what kind of General Assembly he has to work with. If, as hoped, D's take the House, he will get much more of what he wants.

I've had background conversations with various sources that pretty much confirm the above. And it's pretty well known that Strickland has been meeting with various stakeholder groups, including business groups.

The forums are another step in the process. How much will be gathering input and how much will be softening the ground for the eventual proposal remains to be seen. According to the website, things are organized around the six principles outlined in the State of the State address. You remember those, right? No? Well, here's a refresher:

    And I have developed six core principles that will guide our efforts to achieve that vision.

    First, we cannot address our education challenges without strengthening our commitment to public education. As a practical matter, the vast majority of Ohio children are and always will be educated in the public school system.

    Second, a modern education must be directly linked to economic prosperity. Ohio cannot thrive without understanding that world class schools will produce a talented workforce, and a talented workforce will attract and create jobs.

    Third, we need to identify the great strengths of our schools. There are features in our education system that the rest of the world seeks to emulate, and we must build on these triumphs.

    We excel internationally in our ability to foster creativity and innovation. These skills fuel a lifetime of success, especially in an evolving global economy.

    Ohio schools produced the minds that created Superman, with his fictional X-Ray vision, and the mind that invented the MRI, giving doctors the very real ability to painlessly view inside the human body. Ohioans are visionaries, but practical as well. It wasn’t long after a pair of Ohioans invented the airplane that another Ohioan invented the parachute.

    Our schools must teach students to think past the limits of what’s been done, and imagine what could be done.

    Fourth, our best teachers can show us what works best in the classroom. We need to consult them and follow their lead.

    Great teachers can be a resource not only for their students but for their fellow educators. We should support these teachers by giving them the freedom to stay in the classroom and still be rewarded for sharing their expertise with their peers. We lose a lot of new teachers – as many as half of all new teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years – but we can help keep these talented people by giving them better access to senior colleagues.

    Fifth, we must strive to develop a specific, personalized education program that identifies how each individual student learns and use the teaching methods appropriate to that student’s needs and abilities.

    The great educator and philosopher John Dewey described this idea many years ago. He wrote that we must shift “the center of gravity” in schools. It’s a “revolution, not unlike that introduced by Copernicus when the astronomical center shifted from the Earth to the sun. In this case, the child becomes the sun around which the appliances of education revolve.”

    And sixth, testing and assessment will continue to answer accountability questions. But their most important role will be to guide personalized and individualized education through a comprehensive and ongoing understanding of a student’s capabilities and weaknesses and growth in the educational process.

Not the list I would pick, but good enough to be going forward.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Pretend Pino Is Spamming Hate Poems at Me

Some time ago Julio Pino, a KSU history professor and muslim convert got himself involved somehow with an obscure pro-jihadist blog. After a day or so of answering questions, Prof. Pino adopted a public relations strategy of relating to the public as little as possible. He stopped answering press questions, didn't respond to blogger emails, etc.

Since then, someone representing himself as either "Julio Pino" or "Assad Pino" (a muslim name adopted by Prof. Pino upon conversion) has occasionally sent out emails stirring the pot again. Often they are some attempt at poetry and always they spew hatred and celebrate death.

If you are new to all this, you may catch up on my writings here.

This week, I am the lucky recipient. The name on the email is "Assad Pino," though the address is (normally I crawlerproof emails, but in this case, the penis enlargement, Canadian pharmacy and Christian singles industries are welcome to add Mr. Leon to their rolls.) The email celebrates the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq. Out of respect for those who served and their loved ones I won't reproduce Leon's scribblings, except to say that he manages three typographical errors over five lines of rhymeless doggerel.

By the way, the email is titled Diamond Dogs. Jihadists dig Bowie. Who knew?

Some Googling turned up the following. First off, Assad Leon had a blog going that Word Press shut down due to terms of service violations. You can catch the flavor of that effort with some web archive captures here. It's very much like the Lover of Angels blog ascribed to Pino -- reproduced news stories with incendiary headlines penned by the blogger and/or a comment or two.

That's all to the good for anyone interested in defending Prof. Pino. But then there's this curious bit. Someone with a biography very similar to the professor gave an interview to a Pakistani site in which he identified himself as blogger Assad Pino and talks about his "site." A site I can find nowhere.

Hmmm . . .