Thursday, May 08, 2008

Asps and Aspirations

Tuesday night I worked late in the office. I didn’t leave for home till after 7. And since for reasons I don’t understand public radio doesn’t come in too well near my home, especially in the evening, I didn’t listen to the radio on the drive and had no clue about the primary results when I got home. So after pouring a glass of wine I plopped on CNN. Lo and behold, there was Donna Brazile really giving it to Paul Bergala. I tuned in too late to know what started it all, but I quickly got the sense that she felt as if she’d been taking it from him for quite a while (they’re part of the show every weekday evening in the slot before Larry King, at least now when the race between Clinton and Obama is news) and with it getting down to the wire, she had had enough. This seemed to me the obvious consequence when one has commentators who have their hearts in particular candidates. Brazile, who is also a superdelegate, had been fairly non-committal as to which candidate she backed on earlier show. But given that African Americans have been turning out in droves in support of Obama, I have to guess that trumps gender in this particular instance. Bergala has been for Clinton from the get go.

In any event, their scuffling was giving me a headache so I switched channels to MSNBC. After a brief update of the then current results, they left the commentary of Chris Matthews and Tim Russert in favor of an interview with Harold Ford Jr., who with due respect argued that, in thinking a step or two ahead, Obama does have problems getting the votes of working class, ethnic, white male voters and to sure up on that front he should seriously consider getting Clinton to be his VP candidate. That was the smartest thing I heard that evening. Much of the rest was just speculation on how the next steps of the campaign will play out, with very little added information content, unless the speculation itself is news. Indeed, we seem to have gotten way beyond the threshold of the observers affecting the events that they watch. The pundits now seem to be telling the candidates how to run their campaigns. I prefer analysis to demagoguery. The best of that I heard from Mark Shields the following evening on the News Hour, who argued that Clinton might bargain with Obama for his campaign to absorb some of her campaign debt. Ask yourself, if that is what’s really going on, what bargaining chips might she have to make that outcome part of the deal?

I watch this stuff in part as an escape from work. But that doesn’t seem to be working now. The lack of analysis aside, there’s another issue. We become what we abhor. I’m seeing a good part of my job as being a pundit, though in this case the problem isn’t that I might influence the outcome in the process – I’m supposed to do that – the problem is reporting on the outcome once it has occurred.

We’re doing a project on Blended Learning with a novel twist. I’ll write about it when it’s a little further along. In the meantime, we have to plan the evaluation of it now and, because it involves human subjects, we’re required to complete IRB forms so they can review our proposed “research.” For some reason, the word research in and of itself set me off. I’ve already got in my head the upside if this first project “works” and we start scaling the approach to other courses. I can see the consequence – for instructors and students, to be sure – but also for me and my office, in terms of how involved we are with the mission of the College and how much we’ll be appreciated for bringing in an innovative approach to instruction. Mine is not the view of a dispassionate geneticist studying her Drosophila. My staff and I are not neutral about what we hope to learn from this implementation. A pundit and his team doing research. Hmmm.

Perhaps for recreation I should stop watching election politics on TV and go back to the Yankees. It’s a lot safer career-wise. I never say “Holy Cow!” and The Scooter is not one of my role models.

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