Qualifications of Current Presidential Tickets

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I’ve been interested in the qualifications of previous presidents as evident by posts on the most qualified presidents the United States has ever had, and a ranking of the least, in addition to a look at how fictional presidents compare. As a result, I’m curious about how the current presidential tickets compare. It’s worth noting that this is a measure of their qualifications on paper, rather than morals or intelligence. It isn’t an indication about how well they would do in the White House, as evident by the ways Abraham Lincoln was one of the least qualified Presidents, and James Buchanan was one of the most.

I’m partly interested because of the argument that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to ever run for President. This was advanced by President Obama, and was at the very least a title on a Think Progress piece.

Hillary Clinton was a prominent Senator, and Secretary of State. The experience of first lady is difficult to assess, but it would be fair to describe her in political terms as a senior adviser to a governor turned president. I’d still rate her below Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan and Johnson, due to their varied backgrounds and impressive accomplishments. But she is much more experienced than the previous three Presidents. On a ranking, I’d put her in ninth place just behind George Washington (the most consequential General in American history, as well as a key figure in the Articles of Confederation discussion), and slightly ahead of both Presidents Johnson. That’s pretty high up, but not first place.

Trump is difficult to assess, given how opaque his business dealings are. It’s hard to figure out his qualifications when there are major disagreements about his net worth and accomplishments. He would be the only President to have never served in any public office prior to the election. Those weren’t in elected office had served as generals or cabinet officials, and there are a few individuals who ran for president with more concrete records (IE- Carly Fiorina’s four years in charge of a Fortune 20 company are probably equivalent to a similar stint in Congress.) Given the ambiguity, I would compare rate Trump near the bottom, just above Chester Arthur.

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This election is one where the running mates are quite qualified, both mixing executive experience and significant legislative experience in Washington. Tim Kaine was a small-city mayor, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and DNC Chairman before he became a respected and relatively accomplished Senator. I’d rate him at just below LBJ, due to the mix of experience.

Mike Pence is in a similar category. His congressional career included a stint as the #3 Republican in the House of Representatives, although when the party gained its majority he opted to run for Governor rather than take a leadership post. He adds to his career in congress a term as big-state Governor, although he’ll be limited to one term in the office. I’d rate him just above FDR.

There are also some independent candidates, so it’s worth looking at their records.

Gary Johnson was a businessman turned small state governor. He hasn’t served in office since 2002. I’d rate him just above George W Bush—a governor with limited executive authority whose business career was mainly due to his father’s connections—near the bottom. William Weld, the Vice Presidential candidate, spent six and a half years as Governor as Massachusetts, following a career as a prominent prosecutor. He left to be Ambassador to Mexico, although the nomination didn’t go through. He kept a low profile since, but has been involved in politics in several capacities, including advising the Bush campaign in 2004. My guess is he’d be roughly in the middle just below Rutherford B Hayes, and below Ulysses S Grant.

Jill Stein and her running mate seem to be less qualified than Chester Arthur. Neither has any significant accomplishments or posts. Evan McMullin was former chief policy director for the House Republican Conference in the U.S. House of Representatives, although he served the post for a very limited time. For an alternative to Trump, I’d say he has similar qualifications. His running mate, Nathan Johnson’s probably at the bottom.

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Tangled Webs: Was Mary Jane Pregnant in One More Day?

mephisto-deadpool

In a recent Tangled Webs column, I considered the question of whether Mary Jane is pregnant. This expanded on points I’ve made in this blog.

I did not have the impression from the story that Mary Jane was meant to be pregnant. From the issue, there was no reference to the future child having already been conceived, something a villain like Mephisto would have enjoyed gloating about. Nor was there any indication that Mary Jane was aware of any pregnancy. She could easily have just been grunting due to the stress of a difficult decision. An upset stomach has also become visual shorthand for that. She may also have just been sobbing, which people often do in difficult situations.

It seems pretty clear that this wasn’t a result that the reader was intended to come to, considering how it was never clearly stated. If it was meant to be a plot point, it would have been easy enough to construct a few lines of dialogue making that explicit. Currently, for this fan theory to pan out, the reader would have to connect several dots to understand something that seems to be rather important to the story. In the numerous interviews post-One More Day, this is also something that Joe Quesada and J. Michael Straczynski did not bring up, which suggests that it’s not something readers are supposed to pick up on.

One More Day does have a poor reputation, so there is a potential argument that the typical measures for how to interpret a story don’t apply here. One could say that in a good story, something that is essential to understanding the ramifications of the characters’ decisions would usually be stated clearly, but that we shouldn’t assume that One More Day has any attributes of a good story. Although there is the counterpoint that a bad story is where you’d expect to find significant misunderstandings.

More at the link.

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Tangled Webs: Politics and the Spider-Man Comics

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For the latest Tangled Webs entry, I looked at how politics has been depicted in the Spider-Man comics.

As a Republican, I’m slightly wary of depictions of politics in popular culture, due to the left-leaning slant of most writers and editors. Some writers seem unaware that those on the other side truly believe that their solutions will do more good than the alternative. It’s easy to demonize the people you disagree with because the stakes are high, and mistakes in policy will mean that some people will die and that others will never be achieve their true potential. But functioning in a pluralistic society requires civil interactions with people who honestly believe that if everyone who thinks as you do would only come to their side, the world would be a much better place.

Given all the times elected officials, political candidates and political issues are mentioned on the front pages of newspapers, politics should probably be a bigger part of the Spider-Man comics than it is. However, there are incentives for Marvel employees to avoid taking political stands in the pages of the comics. Readers will hold myriad  irreconcilable political views (Ted Cruz is right! Elizabeth Warren is right! Ted Cruz is right on some things, and Elizabeth Warren is right about other things!  Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren are both wrong!) in addition to those who don’t vote, or don’t participate in politics in an American context. This complicates matters for anyone trying to deal with serious topics in a series that is meant to be set in a world that is similar to our own.

As a result, when controversial topics are brought up, it’s usually as a way to raise questions rather than provide answers, or to present an extreme version of a situation which doesn’t really address anything about contemporary debates. Readers could disagree on gun control, but we’ll hope that Spider-Man can save schoolchildren from a shooter. There may be disagreements on the role of churches in family life, but there’s a general consensus that cults are bad. Religion and politics can always be incorporated into the A-plot, since ministers, rabbis and politicians can always be attacked by criminals, and rescued by superheroes. However, there is a tremendous potential for intellectual dishonesty, as the writer gets to determine the outcomes on issues that are usually much more opaque in real life. A conservative writer could depict a voter fraud conspiracy by crazed environmentalists, while his liberal counterpart could pit Spidey against Republicans introducing drugs to a primarily African-American neighborhood.

When a politician appears, Spider-Man generally respects the office, which is a bland and inoffensive position to take, and not a neutral one. Often the officeholder’s role is nonpartisan. Sometimes a real-life political figure offers advice on how to avoid drugs, or how to find help if you’re unemployed. If a fictional official abuses his power, it’s not meant as an ad hominem attack on all politicians or against all members of a particular political party. We would all agree that it’s not acceptable for a city councilman to take bribes from the Kingpin, or for a district attorney to order a witness killed. There are obvious exceptions, due to occasional parodies, although there is always the possibility that a writer will have a tremendous blind spot, and be ignorant of the appeal of a political figure they’re mocking, which can turn off some readers.

More at the link.

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Teaching Morality

This was an essay I’m proud of for a Grad School course on teaching Middle School.

When I read This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents, the topic that intrigued me most about Middle School level teaching was the pros and cons of teaching as a moral enterprise, and how to handle the so-called grey areas. There was one question I immediately had: How should middle school teachers go about teaching values/ morals/ ethics when reasonable people can disagree on what is appropriate?

This is something that has interested me for some time. I’ve followed politics pretty closely, and I’ve done work for political campaigns, the Board of Elections and a non-partisan voter information service. I have my own beliefs on the policies which will help the most people achieve their full potential, which is ultimately what a lot of controversial topics in society come down to. However, I’m well aware that people smarter and more experienced than me will disagree with me, and believe that my preferred policies, if implemented, will result in a loss of resources and possibilities. So, how do I go about teaching their kids, or working with some of them on educating the next generation? How would I go about convincing legislators and other elected officials who make decisions involving educations to support the teaching of morality? A few education classes I’ve taken, especially the one on Human Relations in Inclusive and Multicultural Settings, have addressed these profound disagreements, but I haven’t been satisfied by the answers. And that meant that it was a compelling topic for an I-Search.

I developed several questions that were interesting and potentially difficult. What does it mean for the teacher to be moral? How do we go about teaching morality to students? Most people would prefer that the next generation share their view of what is moral and right, but these aren’t questions that can always be settled.

This is particularly relevant for kids between elementary school and high school, who are at a unique stage in their lives, becoming “capable of assessing moral matters in shades of grey as opposed to viewing them in black and white terms more characteristic of younger children. (p.64)” The Middle School movement was aware that students see and live the effects of social problems, and the conclusion is that “Schools that serve them have a responsibility to assist students in dealing with such major societal issues. Schools and community programs foster responsible, moral decision makers and discriminating, enlightened consumers. (p.15)” This isn’t as simple as it sounds. I assume there are vested interests who would prefer that the next generation not be enlightened consumers, but there are also significant disagreements on the appropriate ways to respond to social issues.

I’d imagine that values that are necessary in schools are stated often and directly. There’s agreement on certain topics. Teachers want accurate assessments of students, and they also want students to make a legitimate effort, so while many adults will cheat in the professional world, and there will be instances of educators motivated to help students break the rules, it’s usually something where schools will not tolerate nuance. While we can understand when a student may feel provoked, I doubt schools will make it a policy to tolerate it when students initiate physical violence. Finally, I think the average teacher doesn’t have the spare time to radicalize students or mobilize them to advocate for pet political and religious causes.

There are likely to still be disputes on the hot button issues, such as whether gender pay disparity is a significant problem and what the solution to it is, and whether the preferred policies of Republicans or Democrats will help more people achieve their full potential. There are further disputes between members of the same political parties, as well as arguments for alternatives such as libertarians in discussions of policy prescriptions. Religion results in similar disagreements, due to the incompatibility of many points of view.

What We Believe does provide a careful compromise. The expectation is that teachers in middle school “actively assist young people in formulating positive moral principles. This guidance, of course, must reflect sensitivity and consider family, cultural, and community expectations. (p.13)” The understanding is that discussions and lessons that are acceptable in one part of the country may not be appropriate in another. It’s still a murky topic, as there can be issues where communities are divided.

The source of several articles I read on moral pedagogy and recent controversies, Annual Editions: Education is an anthology series with pieces about current debates on education, and. The 41st  edition collected 41 articles split into nine sections. Appropriate policies involving Sexual Minority students was one of those sections, due to the strong debate about what schools should teach about homosexuality. In “LGBT Students Want Educators to Speak Up for Them” Abe Louise Young interviewed LGBT students from middle, junior and high school to determine what policies they would prefer. There would be strong agreement that homophobic slurs should not be used, and that the term “gay” should not be used as a pejorative. One of the students Young interviewed suggested that schoolchildren should be corrected if they refer to gay individuals as gross. This may be problematic as gross is a matter of opinion. The ideal lesson might be that it’s okay for others to do things that you find to be gross, rather than that it is wrong of the student to have a visceral opposition to something. On the other hand, I can appreciate that these nuances may be lost on many students, especially in a middle school setting.

In “Preventing Bullying and Harrassment of Sexual Minority Students In Schools” Holly N. Bishop and Heather Casida note that “the most common victims of bullying and homophobic victimization have been purported to be students who are questioning their sexuality- even more so than students who report being gay, lesbian or bisexual.” That’s especially relevant in Middle School. They do observe a potential source of contention as conservative religious communities may soon be “the only identifiable group to continue holding negative views of the gay and lesbian community.” They remarked that staff members were confused on how to handle these issues, and one concern is “fear of repercussion from parents or administrators with homophobic attitudes.” Legal redress is an often used tool of gay and lesbian students, with courts determining that the fourteenth amendment right to equal protection extends to creating safe environments for gay students.

For obvious reasons, gay and lesbian students are described as being more likely to seek faculty support, so Bishop and Casida recommend that faculty become better informed on these issues. Alliance clubs are suggested as a way to foster community, although it is difficult to enforce the concept of creating a “positive school climate where differences are accepted and diversity is valued.” The suggestion that teachers should be well informed about controversial topics should likely extend to other potential sources of contention. I’m sure that students who develop profound philosophical disagreements with parents will also be more likely to seek out teachers for guidance.

There are significant misconceptions on sex education, which highlight the need for school involvement. In 2012, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic cited polls indicating that “Only 4 percent of all those surveyed in 2011 and about 8 percent of those surveyed in 2002 correctly guessed that fewer than 5 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian.” Megan Thielking of Vox assembled several statistics on sex education, and demonstrates that contrary to occasional claims that the current generation of students faces greater difficulties than before, many things have gotten better. There has been a significant reduction in teen pregnancy, with a 38.7 percent decline between 2007 and 2014, and a 50 percent decrease between 1990 and 2014. There have also been less AIDS diagnoses in the United States, from about 80,000 an year in 1991 to 30,000 an year in 2011. This has coincided with an increase of contraceptive use among teenagers from 50 percent the first time in 1982 to nearly 80 percent. These are touchy subjects, and there are further complexities, but schools do provide less education on these topics than parents would prefer. Only 48 percent of schools teach about sexual identity, “though 73 percent of parents would like the subject taught.”

Another piece in Annual Editions: Education 41E was by Susan Porter, a Dean of Students in California’s Branson School who became concerned with new statistics which seemingly demonstrated an increase of instances in bullying. As she researched the subject more, she determined that behavior hadn’t changed, but that the definition of bullying had expanded. Information was difficult to interpret, as statistics varied, with one poll determining that one in five students was bullied, and another suggesting that the number was 77 percent. Asking adolescents to provide accurate information wasn’t very effective, given tendencies to make particular errors. Adolescents are prone to misinterpreting facial cues, which has consequences when children take offense. Adolescents are also more likely to respond emotionally to social situations. Dealing with complaints from students is another situation where awareness is needed, given the potential for overreaction in a profession with a disproportionately high number of well-meaning individuals worried about social justice and underdogs.

On the topic of social justice, I figured that the journal The Radical Teacher would be a good place to find educators discussing controversial topics in a less guarded way. Herbert Kohl wrote about his efforts getting teachers involved in social justice, and his belief that successfully teaching children in high-needs areas is important. However, there wasn’t anything that can be construed as efforts to brainwash children. If anything, he was concerned about the reverse: schools establishing norms for students contrary to the values they learn at home, with the suppression of “students’ home languages and culture.”

In an interview with the Bookmonger podcast, Adam Laats, author of The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education, discussed how his book was different from the typical analysis of progressive education. He covered efforts by conservative activists to change schools to change society, or to prevent change in “a tradition of maintaining tradition in American schools.” As he told host John Miller “There has been no progressive victory over American education writ large. Rather, progressive education- especially in the 1930s and 1960s has established beach heads in public schools, which by and large have been pushed back by conservative activists time and time again.”

He was asked why he hasn’t touched on the issue of school choice, and he explained his rationale was to avoid using current discussions to impose a definition of what it means to have conservative school reform, especially since market models had only recently became hallmarks of the conservative approach. In the past, conservatives wanted to ban private schools, as “the thought at the time was that traditional American values had to be promulgated through the public schools.” He further noted that “Alternatives to those public schools were considered subversive in the 1920s.”

Writing for Middle School Journal, Paul S. George mentions the tension of the political and philosophical split. “In no area do Americans seem more divided, now and in earlier generations, than in the set of fundamental principles of how we view the world and our lives together in society. (p.44)” He examines the contrast between what he considers the conservative world view where history is a struggle between competing groups for finite resources (p.45) and failure is viewed as the result of character flaws, against the progressive view where the solution is greater cooperation and equality, while crime and terrorism are the result “as long as the good life is shown to the whole world but only a tiny, privileged minority actually attains it. (p.47)”

He sees the middle school movement as fundamentally progressive, but like Kohl, he focuses more on the implications on policy (viewing conservatives as being in favor of testing and less spending) than on what values children should be taught. He describes local control as a progressive issue (p.50) which demonstrates Laats’ understanding that the political associations of education issues often change. Currently, arguments for local control are part of conservative opposition to the Common Core, as they see federal standards as an example of big government top-down edicts, infringing on the rights of states and local communities.

In Real Education, Charles Murray had an observation about the universality of values, suggesting that the differences the systems of Aristotle and Confucius “are trivial in comparison with their similarities. (p.125)” Something that is true of Eastern philosophy and Western philosophy can be extended to Democrats and Republicans, or Catholics and Jews. The teaching of morals does not have to be controversial, as long as emphasis is on the wisdom rather the particular claim to authority.

One of Larry E. Frase and William Streshly’s Top 10 Myths in Education was the idea that values could not be taught in a classroom. They emphasized “the universal values of honesty, responsibility, cooperation, reverence, diligence, kindness, perseverance and humility. (p.80)” They felt that public school teachers were overcompensating out of a fear of legal challenges, the result of the current constitutional understanding of the separation of church and state, a legal theory initially applied to education in order to restrict the Catholic minority. They also worried that parents might use schools to relieve themselves of the responsibility of discussing uncomfortable topics, like sex education. Their policy recommendations are fairly noncontroversial, with an emphasis on excellence, a strong well maintained home link and a pervasive system of moral education. This avoids the legal and political fights over issues of religion and values such as a moment of prayer, or posting of the Ten Commandments.

Chris Crutcher, editor of Voices in the Middle, mulled over complaints about the subject matter of some of his books, and claims that his material wasn’t appropriate for middle schools in conservative parts of the country. He contemplated whether it really helps to learn values from didactic one-sided material. He sympathized with a girl in middle school who had been humiliated after she has been caught in a sex act “If she is given stories- good contemporary stories- where characters struggle with those early learnings and biases, and she can see that there are no easy answers, but there are answers, and that she is not alone in her struggle, a dialogue can start.” His view was that the classmates of 13 year olds who abandon newborns in dumpsters, or armed 15 year olds who try to commit suicide by cop, are not going to find the material too tough. The issue here isn’t necessarily the ultimate lesson being taught, but the degree to which students should be exposed to cautionary tales.

A small news story a month ago gave an extreme example of the politics of teaching values. Alan Hays, a Florida State Senator introduced a bill to declare that the state’s middle and high schools must show students Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary America: Imagine a World Without Her. There had been some objections to the politics of the film. Sean O’Neal of the AV Club believed it suggested “that the genocide of Native Americans was going to happen anyway.” David Ehlrich summed up the film’s message “America is an infallible empire that exists to shine its light upon the world. Those who would question it are involved in a vast anti-colonialist conspiracy to hijack the nation away from its fundamental Christian ethos.”

There is little concern the bill will pass. D’Souza pled guilty to violations of campaign financing laws, and is better known for a documentary that was heavily critical of President Obama, and suspicious of the implications of his heritage. Even if the film had been universally acclaimed, there are problems with making the teaching of it mandatory. A proposed law that schools must add this material to their curriculum takes a major choice away from educators in terms of how to allocate time and resources. But it’s something a legislator thought was a good idea, whatever his motives. D’Souza responded to The Hollywood Reporter that he supported the effort as a method of countering liberals in education, “With Michael Moore and Al Gore’s films being shown in schools all the time, it’s great to see Alan Hays is attempting to even the scale.”

After reading these disparate pieces, I spoke with Alice Gunther, a former Junior High teacher and current High School teacher on the topic of teaching morality, to get a grasp of the practical implications of these questions. She has taught Spanish for twenty years, currently in a special education setting. She was also a dean for several years. My questions were on two themes: What were her experiences teaching middle school age children? What did she wish her 9th grade students had learned about ethics?

She believes morals require a foundation of empathy, and that students who reflect on behavior typically understand it. She sees differences between the students she had when she began her career, and the students she has now, concluding that technological changes have meant that children spend more time alone, and are more distracted. As a result, much moral education occurs under the umbrella of socialization. She feels that kids don’t initially understand the difference between mean and strict. They have told her that they feel she respects them, because she is willing to reason, and doesn’t call parents as a first resort. Instead, she uses questions to probe the conscious. When students are asked if their behavior was appropriate, they typically understand. When kids are punished, it’s less personal when a clear explanation is provided.

An awkward problem she often faces is the behavior of parents, who fail to take responsibility for their actions, and sometimes act dishonestly on their children’s behalf, providing fake medical excuses or making demands of the classroom which limit the ability of their children to learn. She’s concerned that many parents underestimate their children, which has the effect of enfeebling them. I asked her how she goes about handling situations where parents behave inappropriately. She said that she tries to talk with the parents, without blaming or shaming them. She doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to openly criticize parents in front of their children, except in extreme circumstances. When discussing events with the children, she may discuss why she felt particular actions were inappropriate, but not in a way that clearly identifies the parents as the ones responsible.

She provides accommodations when possible, as long as she can make sure that students have an understanding of the material. For example, she recalled a group activity that involves students being placed in groups of three and playing a Spanish language version of Simon Says. One student had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and was uncomfortable with lessons that required participation with classmates. Alice’s compromise was to allow her to play with friends in the class, rather than random classmates. The student’s anxiety was mitigated, and Alice was still able to gauge her proficiency. There were no changes to the rigor of the lesson, a concern with many accommodations.

Her school recently started pushing teachers to teach the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, making metacognition part of the curriculum. A major lesson for the children was that it was okay to fail sometimes, a key moral message. The teachers had workshops, and were expected to read books on the material. She is concerned about the psychological repercussions if a sensitive child is taught to take risk, and those risks don’t work. I asked if there had been similar efforts in the past that haven’t been successful. She recalled a previous fad, in which children were asked to come up with goals, and consider the appropriate actions to get to those goals. The problem was that many children didn’t have goals beyond doing the least amount of work to get decent grades.

In the end, what have I found? The partisan implications of certain policies are subject to change, so there’s no reason to pick a side because it’s the one your political or religious tribe is currently on. If something is effective, your group may end up taking that position soon enough. Those who write about education through a political lens tend to deal with the process rather than the material, although I’m not entirely sure if that’s to prevent the opposition media from using particular writings when decrying efforts to brainwash children. Much on the focus on ethics and morals isn’t about the controversial topics, but about things all sides agree on, and that the students generally know to be right, even if they don’t act like it.

There was an interesting question in class about what types of classes moral education, the so-called hidden curriculum, could be applied to. Humanities topics seemed fairly obvious, since these involve discussions about actions undertaken by individuals, fictional and otherwise, and whether these decisions were justified. There might also be objections to certain stories, novels, poems, and films, in addition to arguments about biases of historians. The schools will have to make decisions about whether subject matter is age appropriate, and sometimes the controversies can provide fodder for interesting classroom discussions. There is also the potential for divergences between scientific understanding and the religion of the students or the community. Evolution is a prominent example, but not the only one. Even then, students can always be encouraged to master the material, if only so that they’ll be more effective at articulating the implications of their beliefs.

My first instinct was that this couldn’t be applied to math, since math isn’t subject to change. Two plus two is always going to be four. However, it was noted that math could be used to make students more aware of certain facts and figures. The partisan implications would be mitigated somewhat by “community expectations” although that can be problematic when different facts are highlighted. Democrats might emphasize income inequality, while Republicans might ask students to determine how many people will be unemployed as the result of a hypothetical environmental regulation.

Math provides an opportunity to make students see something in a new way, and they’ll also remember the problems more if it’s relevant to them. There is a middle ground between keeping ethics entirely out of the classroom, or exposing students to ham-fisted regurgitations of partisan talking points written by individuals unlikely to be experts in the referenced topic. Math can be an effective way to teach about consequences, and these don’t have to be controversial. Here’s a sample question: If Joe earns ten dollars an hour, and someone steals two hundred dollars worth of valuables from him, how many hours is he going to have to work in order to get back where he started? Students are reminded of why it’s not acceptable to steal from others, a lesson all communities can agree with. And it applies mathematical formulas to a situation that many can identify with. Joe’s situation is more interesting than that of the typical word problem protagonist.

There are many questions remaining, and I likely could have written separate papers on controversies involving sex education, how to address politics in the classroom, implications of health statistics, divided communities, or the politics of teaching as a calling. For the most part, teachers don’t need to panic about whether they’ll be accused of proselytizing. Listening to students and parents helps cut through a lot of the policy knots. Facts can always be spun, but honesty is the best tool in an argument. It’s important to be aware of the needs of the students, and to have open communication, with explanations for any contentious decisions.

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Tangled Webs: The Spider-Marriage’s 30th Anniversary

mary-jane-wedding

For a Tangled Web column, I looked at the different perspectives of an event that happened a little over 30 years ago, as Stan Lee and a roomful of comics fans convinced Jim Shooter to marry off Spider-Man and Mary Jane.

In some ways, this week marks the 30th anniversary of the Spider-Marriage—at least according to Jim Shooter. Researching the background of this story—which includes the firing of an editor, as well as the departure of a well-regarded Amazing Spider-Man creative team—indicates that there is some disagreement about what really happened.

More at the link.

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Tangled Webs: The Reputation of Shed

shed-lizard

For a Tangled Webs column, I looked at the reputation of Shed, a four part Brand New Day era Amazing Spider-Man arc that has some fans, and detractors. I really liked it. Many did not.

A unified front doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong with the critics. Some things are very well regarded, and some things are universally despised. If six film critics agree that Raging Bull is pretty good, it doesn’t suggest that there’s a lack of intellectual diversity with the group. It could be that an acclaimed work is well-made, and that critics are able to recognize it. Likewise, if they think that the 2001 film Dungeons & Dragons, or the recent Fantastic Four remake is awful, it could just be that the film is poorly made, and they recognize this as well.

Shed’s an interesting exception, because some people really liked it. Marvel has stuck with the developments, even though it would all be easy to retcon. It has shaped the depiction of the Lizard in subsequent stories including a four parter in an X-Men series, a TPB length storyline in Slott’s Big Time run, as well as appearances in Superior Spider-Man, and the build-up to Clone Conspiracy, where the man in red seemed to bring back Billy (as well as Curt’s wife Martha, who was killed off in the Quality of Life mini-series back in 2002.

The Lizard pops up in several of the images for Marvel’s recent Clone Conspiracy teaser, suggesting a large role in the story.

On the podcast, editor Steve Wacker was mocked for saying he’s prouder of Shed than anything else he’s ever worked on.

David Uzmeni of Comics Alliance called it one of the best comics of 2010.

Yeah, it’s shocking, it’s violent, it’s emotional. But it hits honestly and brutally in a way that isn’t manipulative, other than the heartstring-tugging that any story has to try to pull off to create an emotional connection. In the hands of almost any other team, a story with this mandate — to take the humanity of the Lizard and have him attack his family — would be laughable dross, but here Wells and Bachalo elevate it to a pretty harrowing story that never loses the tone of a Spider-Man book. It’s not a sudden nonstop abattoir, it’s a really dark punctuation mark on a story, represented by the Lizard himself eating the panels and narrative whole.

Chris Sims—also of Comics Alliance—thought it was too acclaimed to be considered one of the most underrated stories, since it was rather well regarded.

Even recent stuff has been getting its props: Our own David Uzumeri called Zeb Wells, Chris Bachalo and Emma Rioss’s “Shed” the best Spider-Man story of the decade, and if you don’t think Marcos Martin’s work on “Amazing” stands up to the best artists that book’s ever seen, well, you’re wrong.

More at the link.

 

 

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Senators and Vice-Presidents

Trump Pence

Donald Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as his running mate shows an interesting difference between Republicans and Democrats. The Democrats will almost always pick Senators for Veep. Republicans are most apt to pick Governors, like Pence is now; leading members of the House of Represenatives, like Pence was until four years ago; and members of former presidential administrations, which doesn’t quite work in the current political environment due to George W Bush’s reputation.

Since 1980, the GOP has gone with one Senator for Vice-President: Dan Quayle. The other Vice-Presidential candidates included a Governor, three representatives turned Cabinet/ Cabinet-level members of previous administrations (Papa Bush, Kemp, Cheney) and with Paul Ryan, one sitting representative. As a Governor, with a notable stint in Congress, Pence has a mix of the records of Palin and Ryan.

Democrats have consistently chosen a Senator for the #2 spot since ’88, with Bensen, Gore, Lieberman, Edwards and Biden. This still applied when the top of the ticket was a sitting or former Senator.

The only time Republicans had two Senators, former or current, on the ticket was 1960, when Vice-President and former California Senator Richard Nixon chose former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr to be his running mate. Democrats had two-Senator tickets (counting Vice-Presidents who came from the upper chamber) in 1948, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972 (for 19 days before Eagleton was replaced), 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Mondale Ferraro

Part of it could be a desire of the parties to avoid mistakes made in the past. The only Senator recently chosen for Vice-President by the Republicans was Dan Quayle, who has since been widely ridiculed. The only non-Senator recently chosen by Democrats for the office was Geraldine Ferraro, something that’s now considered a poor decision. The main reason Ferraro was on the ticket was that Mondale wanted someone who wasn’t a white man to be his running mate, so his options were limited. The alternatives to Ferraro—a third-term congresswoman—were San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisernos and Kentucky Governor Martha Collins, who had served less than an year in the position. If there had been a female Democratic Senator at that point—if Elizabeth Holtzman had won her 1980 New York Senate race by one point rather than losing by that margin—Mondale would have been happy to run on a ticket with her.

It could also reflect differences between the parties. Republicans haven’t been terribly fond of Washington, and especially the culture of the Senate, so they’re less inclined to go with politicos who are seen to be a part of that atmosphere. Democrats usually like the idea of big government. Republicans prefer executive power, which allows for Governors and administration members. They also seem to prefer the House to the Senate.

The selection of a candidate can also influence subsequent events. If Republicans look at George HW Bush as an adequate Vice-President, they’re more likely to pick successors made from the same mold. If all the previous running mates have been Senators and that usually worked out well for the Democrats, the Presidential candidates would be less inclined to broaden the long-list to include those who served in previous administrations.

Republicans had held the White House more often, which made it easier to choose from presidential appointees. That’s changed in recent years, as the George W Bush administraiton was decidedly unpopular, while Barack Obama became the second twice-elected Democratic President since FDR. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and HUD Secretary Julian Castro are considered potential running mates for Hillary Clinton, as is Congressman Xavier Becerra of California (#4 in the Democratic leadership) although part of that may be that the only Hispanic Democratic member of the Senate is currently under investigation.

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