Category Archives: politics

The Coltrane Problem: The Crisis in Higher Education, Grad Student Issues (and Their Common Solution)

Why are graduate students at the University of Oregon Ready to go on strike? Read this blog post from Plights of Labor… then share it with others. Thanks!

The Plights of Labor

[The author asserts ‘Creative Commons’ copyright of this article—full rights to share or use in part or whole for noncommercial purposes, with attribution]

While the ‘crisis in education’ in America has been a topic of serious discussion for a long time, its relevance has unfortunately never been greater. Tuition rises, administrative bloat amplifies[i], and universities cut corners cheapening education through growing class sizes and reliance on adjuncts and graduate students rather than tenure track professors[ii].

These changes—universally hurting students alongside faculty, adjuncts, and graduate student instructors but benefitting administrators and often athletic departments—form an educational version (which I will call the Coltrane Problem) of effectively the opposite variant of a classic problem in moral philosophy, known as the Trolley Problem.

The Coltrane Problem (whose namesake and inspiration will become clear in time) provides a specification of an aspect of the crisis in education, illustrated contemporaneously…

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“Stop Having Babies!!” versus “Start Saving!!”

This post is in response to an NPR story I saw today called “The Big Squeeze: Can Cities Save the Earth?

In that story it shared two amazing graphics. The first graphic is about concentrating the world’s population into one city… how big would that city be? The second graphic is based on how much land is needed for everyone on the planet to live certain lifestyles.

The World's Population, Concentrated

This first graphic shows density but does not account for all the things people would still need to survive even if they never left their city. As the NPR story explained, “People in the Enormous City still need food, furniture, clothing, water, electricity, building materials, still need a place to store their waste. They still need water systems, farms, ranches, electricity grids, dumps, lakes, even if they never leave their city.”

Ecological Footprint By Country

This second image shows how much land is needed for the current earth’s population to live, depending on what kind of lifestyle is chosen to live. It looks scary, I admit. When people see this their first response is normally stop having babies! Especially the poor countries need to stop having babies. If the poorest countries would simply stop having babies then we wouldn’t have such a problem. Many aid packages to foreign countries include a family planning/population control agenda.

But look at the graph… and realize that if everyone on the planet lived like people in the United States, we would need 4.1 earths to make that lifestyle happen. You know… the TV, cell phone, computer, laptop, second TV, cellphone(s) for the kid(s), two cars per family lifestyle. The obesity epidemic which impacts many Americans is part of that lifestyle. The lifestyle where people consume fresh water to grow grass for their lawns in the desert. The lifestyle where millionaires own homes in Aspen Colorado that they only use for a few weekends out of the year. What am I getting at? My wife owns an iPhone. Yes, I know. Many people own an iPhone. My wife owns the iPhone 1. Some of the programs are starting to make her phone dated, but there is currently on the market an iPhone 5. So, the counter-argument to population control (stop having babies) is stop overconsumption (start saving).

The stop having babies argument is a good one because it focuses attention on poor countries who do not have the resources to support children. The more education a woman has, the fewer children she tends to have… so if population control is a real concern, then invest in schools. The start saving argument is generally frowned upon because it makes people feel guilty for being overweight, owning two cars, or having just purchased an iPhone 5.

What are your thoughts? Is the planet headed toward a population bomb or an overconsumption meltdown?

Obama Won – Now What about Education?

I did not cheer or dance when Barack Obama was announced as the winner last night. I was not overly thrilled with Mitt Romney or Obama.

Colleges still face large tuition fees and students graduating with larger and larger student loans. I feel like this trend is similar to the high gas prices faced across the country. When gas prices started to go up, people thought maybe it was just a phase and that prices were going to come back down. Now… I do not hear anyone talking about gas prices coming back down. Unfortunately, I feel this is the same thing for colleges and college books.

There are some universities offering large online classes for free, but these classes are currently not for credit. I am not sure what that means for the future of education. Will colleges shift to free online degrees? I am not against online courses… but it is much easier to cheat online. That is the only negative thing I can really say about online courses. That, and you know… interacting with people.

I want college tuition rates to come down. I want student loans to become a thing of the past because students no longer need to borrow to attain a college education. However… I have not seen anything from either major political party which positively impacts the education issue. What do you think should be done to control or eliminate college tuition rates? It is really helping poor people to graduate with college loan debt and no job? Is it helping poor people to graduate with college loan debt but get a job that cannot pay off their student loan debt?

I wish the United States had more than two main political parties. I saw parts of me in the Republican Party, and parts of me in the Democratic Party… and parts of me in the Green Party. I want the government to spend less. I want better environmental controls for factories. I want less jobs being sent overseas. And I want better education for grades kindergarten through college.

We need change we can believe in… not smoke and mirrors that promise a new direction yet stays on the same path.

Don’t (NOT) Vote!! Election 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11:  Green Party preside...

I voted for Jill Stein. I wish the country had a real third party alternative. Obama and Romney are both disappointing to me.

As far as elections go, this one has bothered me. With the instant memes possible with social media, and facebook, friends of mine who are Republican can instantly let me know why they hate Democrats. And my friends who are Democrat can instantly let me know why they hate Republicans.

Obama is a socialist dictator. Romney hates women. Blah blah blah.

This election, I honestly don’t care who wins. I am more interested in the election being over so that my friends return to normal. However, some of my friends have decided to not vote out of protest. And I have read stories of people deciding to not vote out of protest.

I have actually read that there are people who are protesting the fraudulent election choices by NOT voting. I do not agree with not voting, but I do agree with being frustrated with the sub par choices that the United States of America has been able to offer for the presidency.

I don’t care who you vote for… but I do hope you at least vote. The Senate, House, and state races are all very important for you. I understand their frustration with the past few decades of leadership… but I still think not voting is a failure. Don’t (NOT) Vote.

“Skinny Minnie Mouse” from Barneys’ the Fashion Standard or Fashion Faux Pas?

Barneys Skinny Minnie Mouse, protest

Barneys Skinny Daisy Duck, protest

As someone who studies society, I was very bothered when I saw these images of Disney characters. Girls and women have enough pressure put on them by photoshopped supermodels, anorexic actresses, and general media scrutiny. Lady Gaga is one of a list of celebrities who has taken some heat in the media for not being a size zero. I hope you will join me and others in protesting the Skinny Disney Character campaign from Barneys.

You can sign the online protest here: