EMU and Real Sports

We’re in an interesting, important moment at EMU these days due to greater and greater concern about the institution’s budgetary condition and the sieve units on campus most prone to runaway spending. Ever since an HBO Real Sports segment, “Arms Race,” aired just over a week ago, the volume of these issues has climbed. In local and regional media, we’re catching various castings almost every day, many of them quoting regents, administrators, students, and Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting and faculty union leader, who has been among the most vocal proponents of more transparent and responsible spending. The most pointed details circulating are that over the past two years, athletics has operated on deficit (or General Fund dependency) of $52 million. Here’s a screen shot posted to Instagram from the report delivered to the Board of Regents that details how that deficit implicates all EMU students in patterned spending that obligates many of them to long-term payback via student loans. Each student who completes a four-year degree at EMU, the report says, contributes approximately $3600 to athletics, whether or not they attend a single event.

With this in mind, I wanted to note a couple of impressions:

  • It’s difficult, a heavy chore to call for less of anything, to call for less spending on athletics or on any university venture that involves people we work alongside, because there is always a risk of it seeming a personal attack. I mention this as a former student-athlete, myself, and also as someone who worked in higher ed athletics administration for seven years. These discussions of change, particularly dollar-wise change, are fraught, intensely emotional on all sides of the issues, and therefore incredibly difficult to reduce to clear causes much less clear solutions.
  • There are lingering narratives about underdogs (EMU is down but not out), about almosts (what if this is our breakthrough year?!), about unification (we’re all in this together), and about proportion (athletics is but a small sliver of the institution’s overall spending). These circulate as commonplaces, or readymade arguments that expedite, skipping over the nuance and subtlety, side-stepping the stickier work of correcting the problems. And as such, these are the sorts of snippets that tend to circulate in the news accounts because they are reportorially convenient.
  • It is always to admit failure, particularly for those in the mix (e.g., an AD or particularly supportive regents) who themselves have sports backgrounds because the allure of sports is in part its continuous progress trope: always improving, always getting better, no obstacle too grand, etc. But this thinking is especially dangerous if it manifests as an expensive hubris or megalomania, an inflexible insistence on staying the course when there is abundant and costly evidence that it is not going well. Could EMU make a change and therefore save money? Sure it could. But there are people in this mix who hold power and who are beneficiaries of the runaway spending. As these conditions solidify, we return to the familiar patterns of a growing, better-and-better-paid administrative class, rising tuition, and institutional inertia–conditions for inflexibility that cannot help but compromise the quality of academic programs while reaching as deeply as possible into the pockets of those who are most cheated–students.
  • For these issues to continue circulating, for them to become unstuck and for EMU to take up the hard work of institutional change will require more (and more public) faculty voices than Bunsis’. Discontent has been building for at least a few years, and it makes athletics difficult to really get behind, while sapping the morale in academic units on campus (where in some very specific cases, none of last year’s 7.8% tuition increase landed).
  • I’ve attended at least one football game every year since I was hired seven years ago. Ron English was the coach back then, and I recall that faculty (perhaps only new faculty) were provided season tickets for home games free of charge. But this has not happened since. This season, for the first time, I purchased season basketball tickets for both men’s and women’s programs. I went to maybe 20 home games, total. I noticed at the football game–season opener–that tickets cost considerably more than in past years, enough to make me pause and wonder whether at that price point I would return. Exiting the stadium after that game, I walked with two colleagues, and we found that half of the stadium was not only vacant but that many of the exits were locked. The Convocation Center, where basketball and a few other indoor sports compete, tends to feel better occupied for home events, but the entire upper deck of the stadium (much like the entire away side of Rynearson) is blocked off with tarps that prohibit anyone from sitting there. These are expensive tarps, too, elaborate in their printing and designed to condense the facility’s attendees, mitigate the traffic areas for cleaning, and so on.  There are numerous minor details to point out about the experience of attending these events that I won’t go into, but suffice it to say that these small details, such as the merchandise shop rarely being open during home basketball games, resonates with an overall impression of flagging institutional investment in the fan experience. That is, the investment is purely financial; it doesn’t show up as a more compelling experience at the events themselves.
  • Finally (for now), I’ll reiterate that without pointing a finger at anyone or calling into question the wisdom of university leadership in such matters, wherever that responsibility might fall, football in particular has been implicated in some questionable and expensive choices lately, from extravagant uniforms whose digital readout-like letterforms made it impossible to distinguish sevens and ones to efforts to rebrand Rynearson Stadium as “The Factory”–a move that to this day is an unsettlingly absurd turn of events. With concession stands called “Assembly Line,” gray artificial turf, hard hats, a quitting time whistle upon major in-game events, and promotional gimmicks that put real sledge hammers in the hands of football players so they can pose as if about to swing away at loose-stacked cinder block, “The Factory” is downright embarrassing–a conceptual fumble whose oh-no-not-again weight is heavier than all of the real football team’s real turnovers (punts included) for the last decade. I’d better not go on. But I sure would hope that investing bags of money in a wobbly enterprise would take greater care than to put good, long-loaned tuition dollars behind such an unconscionable rebranding effort as that.

This is enough for today, enough for now. I’ll end with one last quotation from a news article circulating in Mlive today, “EMU AD Lyke: ‘no question’ football must improve, wants to stay in MAC“:

In addition, a report, issued by members of the Faculty Senate Budget and Resources Committee, the EMU-AAUP and the student body, points to an increase in the total full time equivalent athletic staff from 64 in 2006-07 to 85 in 2015-16. Staff salaries doubled from $3.2 million to $6.4 million as the department saw 10 more coaching positions and more than 11 “athletic personnel” added during the same time period. During that same time period, the report indicates EMU’s entire faculty increased by just 15.78 full-time equivalent personnel.

Here is where the frustration builds most pointedly: in the quiet, whispered truths like this that are uncomfortable to circulate because they amount to breathing lungfuls day in and day out of some fetid campus wind. In rates of personnel growth like this comes the disproportionately burdensome long-term investment that sets the university and its most vulnerable academic programs on a (possibly) disastrous course–unchecked spending justified by bizarre attachments to notions that ESPN broadcasts will compel, what? droves of new students? more ad revenue for activities not on ESPN? sudden national interest or relevance? I don’t know. But I will continue to pay attention as this plays out and try to make some sense of it in an occasional entry.

Changeling

I spent the better part of today finally finally finally after years converting from Movable Type to WordPress. I’ve run EWM on Movable Type since 2004, and the blog has in part as a result of its cumbersome platform dwindled, faded, crept quietly into an idle corner of the web. If I don’t write into it or visit, why would anyone.

The changeover was easy enough, since I’d upgraded Movable Type in early January. That upgrade was necessary for restoring the blog to logging in. Once I could login, I could back it up. Once I could back it up, I could export it, do a little dance.

I’m at the end of a four-month research leave, with a few days to meander before closing in on the last two chapters of the book I’m working on. And with this meander, I’d like to dust off the various websites I keep up, especially this blog and my landing page for the CV and teaching dossier. I’m discovering the limits of my having kept up with HTML5, the limits of letting weeds creep in and not especially paying much attention to the interplay of various javascript modules and snippets from elsewhere.

I have a couple of IFTTT recipes I’d like to chisel free, and maybe this will spur new or different energy for Twitter, or for posting here and relaying it to Facebook. I pose this more as possibility than prediction and publish it with a shrug, a maybe, a glance out the window reminding me that it’s springtime and won’t for all the rest of the days between now and summer’s end be raining quite as steadily as it is today.

This is Kairos?

Australian reporter Harriet Alexander, in a January report titled “Quick! Before the Worm Turns,” looks into the practice of beach-worming–the harvesting of wormbait from sandy beaches using fingers or pliers. Use of fingers reduces the risk of breaking apart the long worms in the process, according to Col Buckley, the human subject of the story. Buckley suggests a linkage between the beach-trawled worms and the fish in the neighboring waters. He also prefers a conservative ethic:

Buckley can be found splashing around the watermark at low tide during summer, pulling up slimy invertebrates and stuffing them into a pouch. They sniff out decaying fish and seaweed and poke their heads up to feed, concealing the rest of their bodies, which can be up to 2½ metres long, beneath the sand. Bream, whiting and flathead all like to eat worms, although the portion of worm threaded on to the hook needs to be varied according to the size of the targeted fish species. Recreational fishermen can harvest up to 20 worms a day, although Buckley does not believe in taking more than are needed.

The question surfaces again. Worms turn, diverting away from a danger. This is not the same “worm turn” as the idiom induces, which implies revolution–a reversed power dynamic in which the worm, relative to the lion, ends up on top. The worm turns, in this second case, means the underdog ascends. But in the context of this Alexander’s report, these turns are more or less successful, whether we think of them as a body (the individual worm turns) or a species (the lot of worms are vanishing). In the bodily sense, they turn, sometimes caught and split apart at this or that segment. Other times they turn and by turning escape harm having dived underground again. Worming, Buckley explains, is not about speed and quickness; its success hinges on being “gentle and smooth.” The predatory kairos operating here finds opportunity improved not by timing but by manner. A severed worm, now part-safe in the ground and part-pierced on a fish hook, I imagine, experiences without “experiencing” a regenerative if bifurcated metanoia.

By the way, the story also mentions that the beach worms are wind-shy, which means they don’t surface as often on windy days. This, too, goes against the sand-grain of a winds-of-change thinking about revolutions and instead recognizes winds-of-change thinking as partly responsible for worms-returning to their safe havens.

I realize this is obtuse and playful stuff, folks; just using the blog to pluck away for a few minutes at the threads of a couple of ideas.

CCCC Atlanta Rewind, Part II

I don’t think there will be a part 3 in this series, but I wanted to post in a consolidated location the various pieces I brought to Atlanta last week. Steve offered a careful play-by-play of many of the meals and local excursions I was a part of. And he mentioned in the entry that we had a fairly small audience at the N.30 session. With that in mind, I figured I may as well render my talk into an overdubbed video and post it to YouTube where it will surely get a couple of more views in the year to come.

But first, Steve’s video, which initiated and enframed our roundtable:

Below is my contribution to the roundtable. To continue experimenting with YouTube’s closed captioning, I uploaded the full script of my talk as a text file. I’m impressed at how capably YouTube creates alignments between the video’s audio track and the text. Also, all of the oooh-aaah cloud photographs come from the recent New York Times installation, “Up in the Clouds.”

And finally, here’s the poster I tacked up in the Computer Connection room and that I’ve posted in a half dozen places already.

3.33 Ways: Tracing Rhetorical Style from Prose to New Media

The accompanying a/v playlist (linked from the QR codes) is available over here.

Ark

This Ypsinews.com story of The Ark reminded me of Brand’s How Buildings Learn: Huron-side tannery, disassembly, reassembly, blacksmith shop, furniture store, deterioration, pigeon training. Ypsilanti’s The Ark, its adrift, undecidable architecture fittingly named, an example of an early “portable.” Here’s an excerpt about its initial site:

The site was likely chosen on purpose. Tanneries were smelly places, where piles of cow skins were scraped of their remaining flesh and soaked in vats of chemicals in order to process them into leather. A location downstream from downtown meant that meat scraps and used-up chemicals could be drained into the river without creating a stench in the stretch of river traveling through town.

The lazy Sunday morning click with Brand’s book, however, (un)builds toward The Ark’s demise, which, as parallels go, blightfully suggests another end-variant true for so many buildings in aging cities: How Buildings Learn No More.

Wonder how many of those century-old pigeons are out there homing on this missing place?

Ark.jpg

In Other Words, Hello

I read with great interest last week’s announcement from Ben and Mena Trott, co-founders of Six Apart, Ltd., that they had merged their shop with VideoEgg. After the dust settles, the new entity will be known as “SAY Media, a modern media company.” Anil Dash’s “SAY, Goodbye to Six Apart,” for example, sheds light on his part in this transition. I haven’t looked too deeply into what motivates SAY Media; give it a week, right? It’s difficult to really know such things, anyway. Commenters responding to the smattering of Six Apart’s end-times disclosures suggest SAY Media is interested foremost in monetizing blog traffic by way of advertising. My first thought: best of luck.

My next thought is, Earth Wide Calamity!, this blog runs on Movable Type, one of Six Apart’s first blogging systems. If Six Apart disappears, will Movable Type also vanish into thin air? Early, findable answers are exactly what you would expect them to be: no, no, of course not. Movable Type and Typepad are making the transition right along with the Trotts. Nevertheless, there is a bit of anxious buzz floating around that SAY Media is concerned with easing the Typepad subscribers through the transition, but they don’t appear to be especially forthright with promises about Movable Type. The word on Movable Type is, in effect, “mum.” In fact, the SAY Media blog’s latest entry has as its title, “We Love Bloggers, We Love Typepad, We Want to Hear From You,”–a hand-patting “it will be okay” from Matt Sanchez, the new company’s CEO, who, curiously enough, has not himself responded to the comments.

For my own part in this anticipating of the worst, I’ll just hang around, waiting and seeing, until there is more definitive cause for concern (e.g., if this entry does not publish because SAY Media has corrupted my MT installation). Another way, as with much change-anxious worrying, rehearse a dozen times with a succession of deep breaths, “nothing happens.”

Theory Blackmailed, or Invention Hobbled?

Yesterday–day one of teaching in the new semester–did not quite go as planned, and in the wake of a couple of surprises, I didn’t get around to posting like I intended to in recognition of the nth annual RB of September. After a few years such postings carry a some heavy, if solitarily imagined, burden of tradition. Thus, “theory blackmailed”:

Many (still unpublished) avant-garde texts are uncertain: how to judge, to classify them, how to predict their immediate or eventual future? Do they please? Do they bore? Their obvious quality is of an intentional order: they are concerned to serve theory. Yet this quality is a blackmail as well (theory blackmailed): love me, keep me, defend me, since I conform to the theory you call for; do I not do what Artaud, Cage, etc. have done? –But Artaud is not just “avant-garde”; he is a kind of writing as well; Cage has certain charm as well… –But those are precisely the attributes which are not recognized by theory, which are sometimes even execrated by theory. At least make your taste and your ideas match, etc. (The scene continues, endlessly.) (54)

Why blackmailed? Translator Richard Howard could have selected a different connotation of “la chantage,” e.g., bluff, or intimidation. When the avante-garde serves theory, theory in turn may be said to hobble invention, to wrap it in a splint, to contain it. I read in this Barthes passage a concern for theory’s disciplining of innovation. Unexpectedly, this clicks with concerns in the Introduction and first chapter of Muckelbauer’s The Future of Invention, a book I’ve just started. Related are questions about what becomes of “the attributes which are not recognized by theory,” put another, perhaps more helpful way, Can theory keep up with avante-garde performances? Must it?

Anyway, happy RB Day, twice belatedly.

Sklar, “Methodological Conservativism”

Yesterday morning I spent an hour or so finishing up the reading for a philosophy of science reading group that convenes at EMU later this afternoon. The group met a few times late in the winter semester, but their schedule was at odds with mine. I wasn’t able to attend a single meeting. A friend from last fall’s new faculty orientation has organized the group, and for a few different reasons, I agreed to participate. Among those reasons are 1) eclectic reading, 2) cross-disciplinary conversations, and 3) the possibility that I might at some point teach ENGL505: Rhetoric of Science and Technology. Philosophy of science and rhetoric of science and technology are more close siblings than twins, but I see enough resemblances to make these conversations worth checking out.

We’re working through Lawrence Sklar’s Philosophy and Spacetime Physics (1985), the Intro and Chapter One are up for this week’s get-together. The introduction is divided into “The Epistemology of Geometry” (4), “The Ontology of Spacetime Theories and Their Explanatory Role” (8), “Causal Order and Spatiotemporal Order” (15), and “Reflections on These Essays” (19).  In that final section, “Reflections,” Sklar presents a few of key points related to his own methods and how to read the book. First, he nods to his earlier book, Space, Time, and Spacetime, saying readers would find some useful staging there, but adding that the current collection of essays should provide enough context to proceed without needing to begin at some earlier work on these topics.  Sklar adopts “a rather ‘dialectic’ means of investigation” (20), and appears wary of contextualizing spacetime philosophy only in terms of contemporary developments in physics. Instead, he explains, “the essays try to show that the work of theoretical science takes place in a context in which various philosophical presuppositions are, consciously or unconsciously, continuously being utilized to reach theoretical conclusions” (19). Those “philosophical presuppositions,” then, are like trails of crumbs scattered unevenly out of various arcs of thought. The context Sklar prefers would allow us to do a better job of noticing flecks and textures in this mélange rather than deferring to philosophically to whatever is trending scientifically these days. Sklar reminds readers that “a good way to approach this book would be to read through the essays from beginning to end, not worrying about the places where full comprehension is elusive” (21). Noted: not worrying.

C. 1, “Methodological Conservativism”
The chapter begins with a passage from John Barth’s novel, The End of the Road. I’ll share the entire epigraph, since it nicely encapsulates the problem Sklar addresses in the chapter, i.e., how to decide.

Don’t let yourself get stuck between alternatives, or you’re lost. You’re not that strong. If the alternatives are side by side choose the one on the left; if they’re consecutive in time, choose the earlier. If neigher of these applies, choose the alternative whose name begins with the earlier letter of the alphabet. These are the principles of Sinistrality, Antecedence, and Alphabetic Priority–there are others, and they’re arbitrary, but useful. Good-bye.

There are, of course, dangers in attempting to sum up a chapter like this that so deliberately comes at things from as many angles as possible, but, in effect, the chapter echoes with “continue believing what you already believe” or “don’t fall victim to alluring new theories that are at odds with personal knowledge” (there are moments early on when this reminds me of Polanyi…brief moments).  Sklar offers as an example that “There is nothing, as far as I can see, in the physical theory which existed prior to 1917 which would lead one to prefer a theory of curved spacetime to one with ‘universal forces'” (31). I write this as someone who has never studied physics, and yet the guiding principle, if I can reduce it to one, is that methodological conservativism wards against a breezy philosophical manner willing to believe something new when its warrants are at odds with what one already knows (confirmed empirically, or by direct sense experience).

Sklar writes elliptically (i.e., with oblong orbit) around these terms, allowing for possibilities that concepts like “conservativism” might not be quite right:

Obviously the application of the conservative principle is simpler and more decisive in the case where we are concerned with sticking with a hypothesis which we already do believe than it is in the case of selecting from among a set of novel hypotheses. So let us focus on this situation. Is the adoption of the rule justified or reasonable even in these cases? Clearly the rule does resolve a dilemma for us–it tells us to stick with the theory we have and not to drop it for one of the newly discovered alternatives nor to lapese into a skeptical suspension of belief. But is conservativism itself warranted? (32)

I guess the next question for me would be “What does a standard preference for conservativism obstruct, delay, or waylay?”  Sklar seems to have an interest in the consequences of too willingly believing what’s new, but there must likewise be consequences linked to the alternative he recommends. One clear gain is that methodological conservativism holds skepticism at bay, but I am, after reading, still wondering about the reach of these ideas, their implications.

In Part V of the chapter, Sklar situates conservativism in relation to five different belief justifications.  The justifications are
1. Justification by Intuition
2. Justification by Codification of Practice
3. Justification by Appeal to Higher Rules
4. Justification by Empirical Grounding
5. Justification by Appeal to Means and Ends
Justification itself aligns with a rationalist credo, and, in its philosophical orientation, this work gravitates toward empirical rationalism (I’m almost sure Sklar would trouble this characterization, even describing it as unhelpful “sloganeering”). 

A few more illustrative quotations/terms:
“A hidebound refusal ever to change one’s belief’s is nothing but irrational dogmatism. But the desire to maintain the beliefs one already has unless there is some good reason to change them is as rational as the programmatic commitment to maintain one’s social institutions unless there is some reason to revise them” (38).

lemmata (41): “a subsidiary position or proposition introduced to support or advance a larger proposition”

“I think an argument might go like this. Suppose we believe H1 and then discover H2 which is just as plausible, on all but conservative grounds, as H1 relative to present evidence. What should we do? The conservative tells us that considerations of utility recommend our sticking to our present belief. But that is not necessarily what utility does necessitate.  What we should do depends, first of all, on the relevant utlities in the particular case  of not believing anything, believing something and having it be true, and believing something and having it be false. Just how important is it (on either “practical” or “purely scientific” grounds) for us to have some belief or other? If it is not all that important, then the thing to do is to admit that one just has no idea which hypothesis is true and remain in a skeptical withholding of judgment until further evidence is in” (42).

“Conservativism is not just a minor ‘last resort’ principle invoked only when all other principles have failed to do the selecting job for us. Conservativism is, in fact, so deeply and pervasively embedded in our schema for deciding what it is rational to believe that once we have seen the full role that it plays we are likely to reject the alternatives to it of skepticism, which tells us to withhold belief from any of the alternatives, of permissivism which tells us it is all right to pick any one we choose, or of speaking of our choices as being ‘adoptions’ rather than beliefs” (43).

Sklar develops the idea of “methodological conservativism” for a particular philosophical quandary, but these ideas may very well generalize to other philosophical domains any time something new and something pragmatically known collide.  In fact, for rhetoric and composition, there are resonances here for how people talk about continuing to do what they have always done (Does methodological conservativism help explain current-traditional pedagogy, perhaps as entrenched belief-in-action?).  One other issue I’m weighing heading into this afternoon’s meeting is Why “methodological”?  Is this a method for philosophizing? A method for thinking? A method for deciding what to believe? And what, besides skepticism, permissivism, and semantic reframings are alternatives to this methodological orientation, not only in physics, but elsewhere, as well?

Moving Meditation

I was out of town and more or less offline late last week when the
July/August Atlantic Monthly hit newsstands with its front cover blazing
the title of Nicholas Carr’s
article, "Is Google
Making Us Stoopid?" (the "Stoopid" is much sexier on the actual cover than it is
here because the letters are done colorfully and in the Google font).
Jeff and

Alex
posted thoughtful responses, and I am sure there will be more.

Carr’s article, if you have not read it yet, hops along like Level 1 on
Frogger (which, coincidentally, was released in 1981): without much exertion,
the argument leaps from personal anecdote to the role of media in shaping
cognition to the insidious effects of too much easy access to information via
Google: drumroll…

"[A]s we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world,
it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence" (63).

Carr welcomes skeptics but also fends off all-out dismissals of his deep
wariness of the changes he has experienced first-hand. He begins the article
with his own reasons for believing this "flattening" to be endemic and imminent
for Google users: 1.) he is more and more easily distracted in his own attempts
to read anything longer than a couple of pages and 2.) what was once
pain-staking research is now available to him almost instantaneously. With a
simple search, he can quickly summon great heaps of material on [enter search
terms]: "And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for
concentration and contemplation" (57).

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