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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Tangled Webs:What Amazing Spider-Man 2 Skipped


For the Crawlspace, I wrote a new column on how Amazing Spider-Man 2 skipped events from Amazing Spider-Man #122, possibly the best Spider-Man issue ever, and what this means for the future.

Jon Watts, director of Spider-Man: Homecoming, is going to have to deal with some of the same stuff Webb did, in addition to navigating the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and making sure that Spider-Man’s character development fits wherever Disney wants him to be for Avengers 3, to say nothing of any other sequels. Watts can still avoid some of the mistakes Webb and Raimi made. If the first film is a bit more self-contained, it provides greater flexibility when it’s time to work on the sequel. If someone wants to make a film built around a particular sequence—such as the scene from Amazing Spider-Man #33 where Spider-Man is trapped under tons of machinery—it works better if the audience isn’t also expecting the continuation of various seeded storylines, which will take screentime from the main narrative, in additon to whatever decrees higher-ups at Disney and Sony come up with. It’s possible that producers will look at Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 and realize that their involvement was often counterproductive, although that’s not something that can be relied on.

More at the link.

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Tangled Webs: Spider-Man Films and Multiple Villains


My latest piece on the Crawlspace is about rumors for the bad guys in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and whether Spider-Man films should only have one villain.

One of the rumors about SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is that it’s going to feature Vulture and Tinkerer working together, which is oddly remniscent of SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE. In this case, it could work. The Tinkerer doesn’t require a complex origin story, and can fit the Vulture’s story by helping him with his equipment.
Another rumor is that the Kingpin may be the bad guy. Vincent D’Onofrio says he’d like it to be true, but that it doesn’t seem likely. He would be a bad guy who would presumably have super-powered henchmen, but those guys don’t necessarily need complex origin stories, nor would they result in a more convoluted narrative. 

There’s another rumor that the opening set piece might pit Spider-Man against the Shocker. I’m posting this one because it’s something that plenty of readers have suggested they’d like to see. I don’t know if it’s the best use of a villain who has been in some good comics, but it would be a way to show off Spider-Man’s powers prior to the main conflict of the film.

Full article at the link.

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“Who says I have to go to school?” “The law!” Compulsory Attendance


This is something else I wrote for a class.

We might think of compulsory attendance in schools as something that always happened, but for a long time, there was the understanding that some students will miss many classes for assorted reasons. Weather could be unreliable in many parts of the country, and many students would be expected to be to busy with chores to attend classes, especially if their parents were farmers. The first state to make attendance in schools mandatory was Massachusetts in 1852, when it required children between the ages of 9 and 14 to attend schools. This was based on the understanding that many children in that age group, if given the opportunity, would not be in school. (Christie) The laws became common in every state by the twentieth century, aided by child labor laws which required school-age children to get an education.

The age at which students are required to attend school (with graduation as the one available “out”) has increased. Recent laws had increased compulsory education, including the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on graduation rates. Supporters of compulsory education laws suggest that it’s necessary to help children achieve their potential, and ward off various side effects of uneducated teenagers being left to their own devices all day long (IE- teen pregnancy, drug use, crime). Critics argue that students who don’t want to be in school will be disruptive, and that making attendance compulsory has become a policy alternative to improving schools so that every student would want to go there.

Some parents refuse to allow their children to attend public school, preferring a private school, or form of homeschooling. In the United States, the primary method of dealing with this legally is through laws that give control over standards for those alternatives. There are some exceptions. In the 1972 case Wisconsin V. Yoder, the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that Amish children did not need to have more than an eighth grade education, due to the precedence between their parents’ religious belief and practice over the state’s interest in educating children. As Robert Mawdley described it, “the court went on to conclude that secondary schooling would expose Amish children to attitudes and values that ran counter to their beliefs and would interfere with both the child’s religious development and his or her integration into the Amish lifestyle.”

Compulsory education has significant effects in the classroom and society. With the understanding that most students will attend the typical class, teachers are better able to build on previous lessons. It is widely accepted that school-age children should be learning, rather than participating in child labor.

It remains a controversial topic, and there are several sides to it. There are several arguments that children shouldn’t be mandated to go to school at all, that it violates the rights of parents and/ or children, imposes a structure on children, or reinforces authoritarian beliefs. There is another claim that the laws don’t go far enough, and that the alternatives to a public school education lead to inequality, and a lack of suitable control over the standards of education.

I did some student teaching in summer school as well. One point that was drilled into me was that these were the kids who wanted to be there, the 1 in 3 who cared enough to go to school in the summer. Each day was a two hour class, and because teachers have to accept students who are up to half an hour late, many trickled in about 25 minutes late. Participation was also pretty low, with some kids who were literally present, but not figuratively so.

I’m mostly in favor of the status quo, with compulsory public school education as the norm, with available alternatives that have to meet state standards. Where do you fall on this spectrum? Are there aspects of that law that you would prefer to see changed (IE- the age up to which students are required to go to school)? For teachers, what problems have you had with absenteeism? How has your experience as a teacher changed your opinion on the topic?

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Qualitative and Quantitative Research


In education, there are primarily two forms of research: Quantitative and Qualitative. Quantitative research depends on mathematical models and statistical techniques. Qualitative research is based on the researcher’s understanding. There are arguments for both. Some of the most significant researchers in education used qualitative research. Jean Piaget’s research on his three children changed our understanding of child development. On the other hand, qualitative research is vulnerable to individual biases, to say nothing of the possibility that someone will fabricate information. However, there is also the criticism that quantitative research turns individuals into numbers, and excludes factors that wouldmake results difficult to replicate. A question for education researchers is which carries greater conclusion.


My conclusion is that qualitative research can typically be more influential than quantitative research in education. The major reason is that quantitative research gives concrete figures that can be incorporated in numerous ways by the media, and the various decision-makers, who will often be influenced by what is said in the media.

I think there has been a shift in society towards preferring numbers in research. The Western World currently has celebrity economists like Paul Krugman, Thomas Pikkety, Tom Sowell and Steve Levitt. While there is much dispute over the significance of cited numbers, there’s still a preference towards numbers as the basis for understanding the world, and the effectiveness of various forms of intervention in education, as well as other fields.

There’s skepticism of qualitative research for a variety of reasons. Part of it is a growing understanding of how people can be mistaken in their perceptions. As an example, You Are Not So Smart started as a blog about cognitive errors, and has spun off into a podcast and books. This kind of incredulity regarding subjective understandings and direct experience, either from researchers or the people they interview, makes qualitative research less convincing for anyone who distrusts the conclusion. And anyone supportive of the conclusion will be just as happy with quantitative research.

While narratives matter, the most influential stories are usually not the ones told by researchers with impeccable academic credentials. The media will find these stories themselves. When they cite research, my feeling is that it’s more likely to be quantitative research than qualitative, as that provides concrete numbers to add to a story about someone’s experiences. There are also different incentive structures and audiences. A news network is going to prefer telegenic teachers for a report on the state of education, while this is not as significant a priority for someone writing for a peer-reviewed journal on education.

There may be rare cases in which qualitative research is more influential. A particularly persuasive report could have a greater impact than quantitative research if read by the right person, but I think this would be the exception.

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Tangled Webs: One More Day’s Doctor Strange


For the latest Tangled Webs column, I looked at Doctor Strange’s role in the controversial Spider-Man story One More Day, and considered how it changed the context of earlier scenes from writer J. Michael Straczysnki’s Spider-Man run.

This is a piece about One More Day, but it’s not about the usual controversy. It’s not about anything to do with Mephisto, not does it have anything to do with breaking up Peter and MJ. It’s about something that happened in the second issue on the storyline—an instance of time travel with Doctor Strange—that has interesting ramifications for several of the key storylines in J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man run.

Time travel shenanigans are a part of JMS’s modus operandi. He described BABYLON 5 as having one example of time travel, which is literally true but it did have reverberations through the entire series. MIDNIGHT NATION features a conversation between a man and his future self at two different points, revisited in the final issue. This type of stuff was not invented by JMS. Grant Morrison did a similar trick in ANIMAL MAN a decade earlier. Jim Starlin did the same thing with Warlock in the 1970s. But it’s always impressive when it’s pulled off, and JMS made a go of it with his final Spider-Man story.

These particular scenes involve Doctor Strange. The wallcrawler and Marvel’s sorcerer supreme are rather dissimilar characters, with Spider-Man as a younger street level superhero with a secret identity and Doctor Strange as a magician who explores weird realms and whose identity is known to the world. There are some connections, starting with the obvious that they’re Marvel’s two most popular lead characters cocreated by Steve Ditko. Roger Stern also had acclaimed runs on both titles, although there hasn’t been much other overlap. JMS’s Spider-Man run had a mystical theme, so it made sense for him to use Doctor Strange so prominently.

Strange’s first appearance in the run was in JMS’s second extended storyline. Spider-Man had just fought the Shade, a new mystical bad guy, and decided that the smart thing to do was to get some help from a professional.

More at the link.

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An Expert Reader’s Interpretation of Trade Information

This was something I wrote for a class on the topic of how people read. The idea was to give an expert in a trade a text from within that trade to see how they would interpret the context. It was a reminder that teachers often expect students to understand things that are outside of their frame of reference.

The expert reader is a recently retired attorney. He passed the bar in 1987, and spent most of his career working for the Administration for Children’s Services. He’s my dad.

I was to ask him to read new material in his or her discipline and tell you what and how he or she is processing the information during the reading, and to report this in about 200 words.

I asked the attorney (AKA dad) to read the article “Appeals court condemns ‘puerile name calling’ and reverses verdict because of lawyer’s comments” from the American Bar Association Journal. Several terms relevant to understanding the piece were not defined, including appeals court, “Superior Court of New Jersey” and sustained objections. He noted that a reader would be expected to understand the difference between a criminal court and civil court, as well as the process of the division of fault in a civil case, and have a background knowledge regarding the debates on the differences between zealous representation of a client and going too far.

He understood that when the losing lawyer was “weighing legal options” it meant a possible appeal to the state supreme court. He also recognized reasons it was significant that a lawyer was declared unprofessional by an appeals court. Lawyers are officers of the court, so they are held to a high standard. In addition, civil courts tend to be overcrowded, so judges would much rather be triers of fact and settle disputes on the legal questions, than be babysitters. His opinion of an attorney who referred to another’s arguments as “stupid” was informed by how he would have expected a judge to respond to him if he had tried to the same. He also noted that a good attorney would find different ways to make the same point.

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