In a massive clash of cultures and climates, the gloriously orange Fighting Illini — fresh off their invention of the transistor, the LED, youTube, and all web browsing known to man — faced off against USC, who are fresh off their recent re-invention of … football.

Good – Illinois in the Rose Bowl
Bad – against USC
Good – enough friends in town with extra tickets that Mrs. Angry Immigrant and I get to go!
Bad – …to a game against USC.
Good – ~25,000 orange shirts, and lots of college nostalgia
Bad – ~60,000 red shirts on local thugs who pretend they went to USC.
Awesome – seeing one of these idiots pick a fight with an Illinois guy, call his friends to join him in the argument, then watching the LAPD haul all three USC guys off in handcuffs. (Mrs. A.I. would want me to point out that the big “tough” guy of the group was arrested by a girl — a tiny female officer who could easily have whooped him.)
Ugly – no Chief Illiniwek
Halfway Decent – The USC head coach being a nice enough guy to not use his time outs to push in one more touchdown at the end of the game, and set a record for points scored…
Really Reaching for a Silver Lining – Slightly improving on our 1984 score (UCLA 45 – Illinois 9).
Los Angeles – More ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ from USC than from O.J. Simpson.
Los Angeles – 90K fans, probably about 50K cars… 2 hour wait to leave the parking lot.

Happy New Year to y’all!

-AI

PS – the USC band is called the “Spirit of Troy”. It occurs to me that the actual “Spirit of Troy” involved picking a fight, only to be fooled by literally the oldest trick in the book, having your citizenry slaughtered to a man, and having your city burned to the ground so thoroughly that no one seriously believed it really existed until 20 centuries later.

USC – Celebrating a tradition of credulity and historical ignorance since 1906! Fight on!

The shooting deaths of 32 faculty and students at Virginia Tech is an [insert your adjective here] case of societal chickens coming home to roost. This week, it is imposible to view any news not related to his incident. Poor Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson — their luscious feeding trough of a la Imus does in fact have a bottom. Al Qaeda and Hamas are grinding their teeth in impotency that their viewer share (or more importantly media share) is gone. (I’m sorry — what was the Iraq body count Monday?)

I am angry. I watched Fox News (and CNN for that matter) and hear about the 2 1/2 hour gap. This is as infuriating as the question proposed in Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore as to why Bush did nothing for 12 WHOLE MINUTES after hearing about the first plane into the trade towers. Why oh why (excessive handwringing) did the administration wait 2 1/2 hours and not shut down the campus?

Each network lines up its chartered experts: psychological profilers, ex-FBI experts, presidents of security consulting firms, a student from Columbine (actually he was pretty cool with his comment about inane media drivel and shallow continuing analysis, quickly cut to commercial). The ex-FBI agent commented on the statistical probability of the event and the difficulty in securing an open campus — not to the liking of the anchor who was flogging his agenda of the 2 1/2 hour gap and how or why could and did this happen (more verbal excessive handwringing).

So…

At the University of Illinois, in a similar situation, the only thing limiting the body count would be the amount of ammunition the gunman could carry. It wouldn’t be lack of targets. With a little machining, a silencer on any weapon would quadruple the body count. The university has multiple emergency response plans — this isn’t in any of them. Each of the plans has a line of comunication established which includes various police and emergency response agencies, but they have to be activated. That takes a decision. Decisions at the University of Illinois tend to be consensus affairs, and I doubt that Virginia Tech is any different. But let’s be generous and assume that some authoritative hierachical type calls down the troops. CNN anchors suggested that it was criminal not to inform all the students. Further, let’s overlook the difficulty of contacting all these thousands of students and suppose that the University has a magical means of doing so instantly and flawlessly. Virginia Tech has 26,000 students. The University of Illinois has about 10,000 more.

Now that we have a magical means of communications, tell them what? — to go back to their dorms? Where the original two were shot? How about a collection point — like the Assembly Hall. Hmmm more targets in a restricted space. Tell them to stay in the classroom — Hmm that didn’t work out too well. And assuming that you got them all together what about toilet facilities, congested cellular channels (yes parents would be calling), food. It would make the SuperDome in New Orleans after Katerina look positively inviting. So you can’t “shut down the college” because there is no place for the students to go. And lockdown to classrooms isn’t much better. The reasonable action, which Virginia Tech took, was to try and ascertain the facts of the first shooting and locate and detain the perp. Investigations don’t resolve themselves in 50 minutes as in CSI (even with commercials). So the bottom line is “we’re screwed”; much the same as when the tornado tears the house apart around you. There is nothing to do to get unscrewed — no quick little Planned Parenthood abortions, no mulligans, no do-overs, no ‘saved by the bell’ last minute reprieves. No dodges around real pain and problems that the Hollywood types love to write into scripts.

How about preventative measures – courtesy Fox News. Prevent this from happening. Metal detectors probably won’t work. They don’t work at airports (except for assuring Granny that “no – guns can’t pass through”) where you have an hour before (two for international) instead of 10 minutes between classes, and there aren’t 5,000 students entering one building carrying laptops and iPods and cameras. (Those that don’t have enough piercings to set off a magnetometer in the next state). Gun control — oh wait, Virginia Tech was a “Gun-Free Zone”. And racial profiling is out (what race is goth wearing ankle length dusters with an affility for guns and the on-line Columbine role playing game (RPG) where you get to shoot your friends?) Anyway racial profiling would affect about half the campus.

No, to keep this from happening you have to address the root causes:

1. The media rehashing what little fact there is with sensationalism, attributing superlatives to the event: “the worst shooting EVER; the largest body count”. Basicially inviting any disturbed person to try and top this to get his 15 minutes of glory (infamy);

2. The treatment of students as non-persons not worthy of respect, to be recognized only for their tuition contributions to the welfare of the ruling faculty. The view of the person as consumer and of no intrinsic value save as an instrument of purchase of goods and services. The belief that everyone should be manipulated by advertising and media in such as way as to make them susceptible to all manipulation.

3. The fact that most students don’t really belong in or are cut out to be in an academic environment. Let’s face it — you can’t get a decent job without a sheepskin. It’s a checkbox on an employment application. There is no love of learning, no questioning of how or why things work, no wonder of the mechanism, except in a few students — those who belong in the system. To the others, the system is a provider of stress, and the more the mismatch, the higher the levels of stress.

4. The loss of civility in discourse. Look to our leaders as shining examples of this. A political discussion of divergent philosophies is impossible without character assassination, inuendos and rabid attacks on the person, not the ideals. Why argue logically and resolve a conflict when you can assassinate?

5. Lack of respect for the person. The same phenomemon which led Imus to make his comment about the Rutgers team. The constant barrage of Rap music and Gangsta reducing all women to “nappy headed hos”. If it’s in the national lexicon, its usage is pre-ordained.

To fix this requires all of us to step back from the abyss of our society and ask what are our essential values? What is the foundation of this society and what must we do to preserve it? Ethical relativism is the rooster, and a mean-spirited, narcissistic, alienating member of a consumer henhouse it is; and it’s laying some nasty nappy headed little eggs.

The Chief debate at good old U of I is finally over and I can’t bring myself to much past a yawn, but I suppose I’ll rise to the occasion with yet another sarcastic essay about what I think the real issues are. While I do not speak for anyone but myself, I think this is a reasonably accurate representation of what many faculty do think, though they might not be brave/stupid enough to say so in public.

In short, the Chief was retired, not without acrimony. There is, no doubt, a hard core of loyalists who will be offended to the end and will doubtless declare firm intention to send their children to that great, unrequited rival, Michigan (where, despite what some people at Illinois desperately want to believe, they don’t actually give a rat’s solid waste orifice about Illinois, reserving the real hate juice for Ohio State). There are also many more people who weren’t exactly Chief boosters before who have suddenly discovered—for the time being, anyway—a certain romantic, I don’t know, je ne sais quoi? about the Chief. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” indeed. This is not unlike the losing side in an election, combined with the inherent and understandable dislike of having someone else be “The Decider.” The first few months afterwards are often a bit dark for the losers, but most people end up moving on after the initial sting abates. (Maybe fans who feel their favorite band “sold out” is a better analogy?) In the event the football team is actually good in the fall, all will be forgiven. Unfortunately vociferous partisans don’t move on. Heck, entire societies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) form their identity around decades- or centuries-old grievances.

The entire “debate”—I hardly feel this extended pathetic episode deserves the appellation, but I guess it will have to do—was started by a bunch of “new left” types playing the current national pastime, identity politics. (See also.) Identity politics used to be primarily a pastime of the new left, but has metastasized to other areas of the body politic, e.g., demands for ideological balance in the academy through affirmative action of… you guessed it, “certified conservative” professors. (Naturally such a demand could only come from a a former new leftie turned neocon who swapped one extreme for another.) Intellectually, I understand identity politics (perception being part of experienced reality, after all) but essentially loathe it on an emotional level. By no stretch of the imagination am I a Marxist, but I think the Marxist critique of identity politics, stripped of verbiage and boiled to the essence as “a waste of time,” is fundamentally correct. You always have to look at the opportunity cost. There is only so much room in the political sphere at any one point and only so much political capital to spend. You have to choose wisely. Here is a very nicely written piece by veteran civil rights leader Joe R. Hicks about exactly why constantly playing “the race card” doesn’t lead to productive outcomes.

The opportunity costs of the Chief debate were high. There are many things the administration and Board of Trustees (who certainly didn’t ask for the debate) could have done to make U of I better. Most important on my list is trying to deal with the constant pressure turning the University into essentially a private school due to chronic—and borderline unconstitutional—underfunding from the state that has left buildings on the Quad to rot, caused tuition to increase dramatically while cutting financial aid, which lead to the recent drop from 8 to 29 in Kiplinger’s rankings of best buys in public colleges, and so forth. The “upgrade” to the university-wide IT system which worked out spectacularly well—picking the pockets of many campus units in the process in mass quantities of lost staff time—is perhaps another. Instead they were forced into wasting a bunch of expensive time and effort on the Chief issue. It is a counterfactual to speculate whether either outcome could have been changed, but I sure as hell know that the many hours spent on the Chief issue weren’t going elsewhere.

Way to go, new leftist whiners, you win: You won a pointless symbolic victory and left the real problems behind, pretty much just like you always do. Let me give you a hearty “F— you very much” for it.

My guess is the administration decided to bite the bullet and get out of the whole sordid business while the getting was good. That’s because, like administrators everywhere, they’re first and foremost interested in peace, quiet and a steady cash flow, not justice (whatever that is—it’s so hard to decide, much like truth). Alumni donations are important but I’m not sure that canning the Chief is going to affect big donors the likes of Beckman, Grainger, Krannert, Siebel, etc., at all, or the big corporate money that gets their attention. And if these guys don’t want to pony up, UIUC can look to its most famous alum. I’m betting that even current students and recent grads will forget their resentments by the time they make enough money to start donating. Furthermore, new students—more and more of whom are from other states or are international and have no preexisting attachments to the University—won’t really know or care.

Given the correlation of forces (Marxist language, again? what is the world coming to?) in this debate, once the NCAA ruling came down, it is hard to say how else it would have gone. Lest we forget, the pro-Chief people—who weren’t exactly fantastic at playing their cards, unlike some other schools such as Florida State—managed to hold off the anti-Chief people for a long time, but once the University administration felt the wind blowing in the direction of “we’re not going to be able to partake in the big bucks of college sports fully anymore,” it was over. The NCAA is horridly inconsistent about application of their policies and I have a hard time discerning any rhyme or reason to what they do or fail to do but, ultimately, that doesn’t matter. Big money college sports has become a scam corroding the mission of the academy many ways. Consider how distance learning has been abused to keep money sports players in uniform. The connection between alcohol sponsorship and college sports isn’t trivial, either, and don’t think for a minute that bucks coming from the likes of Anheuser-Busch doesn’t affect decisions made by school administrations. As we saw with the Don Imus dustup, advertisers like controversy, but only controversy they manufacture or, at least, can control.

Honestly, I’m just glad l’affaire Chief is over. It went the way it went and ultimately it won’t mean a hill of beans, but the institution’s lost a bunch of time forever to this ridiculous issue. I’m even happier that I’m departing the whole school spirit/athletic department gravy train environment, so, very soon, it’ll be NMP… not my problem.

(I fully anticipate the hate mail. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get some from both pro- and anti-Chief people!)

With Chief Illiniwek dead and gone, though never forgotten by his loyal supporters, we now have a very clear and pressing issue both at the University of Illinois, and at all campuses impacted by the racist and selectively enforced policies of the NCAA. What should we choose to replace to dearly loved symbols which have been so heartlessly snatched away from us?

In honor of the people who launched the racist campaign against Native American mascots, I suggest The Straw man. Lately we have seen a number of individuals in the anti-Native American camp suggest that having a student dress up in Native American costume is the equivalent of wearing blackface. They then go on to suggest that we the loyal supporters have no arguments against their claims. They foolishly attempt to prove this assertion through the use of straw man arguments, such as this one presented pictorially by an artist for the Daily Illini in his comic dragon and goat. Evidently these individuals are unaware of the fact that a Straw Man argument is a logical fallacy, and so by resorting to it, they are in effect proving themselves wrong.

As a matter of fact, using Native American costume is not at all like blackface, and our argument is absolutely not that it is “tradition” which somehow makes everything all right. Instead of actually investigating our arguments, these individuals instead take the untenable position of a Straw Man, and after knocking down the fake argument they have set up, declare victory and go home. It is hard to blame them, however, as it is obvious from whom they have learned their questionable debating skills.

Fundamentally our arguments come from logic and reason. Let us look closely at the accusation. Blackface is, as we all know, a performance style that was popular in the early days of show business which involved a white individual painting their face black to appear as if they were another race. For the accusation against Native American mascots to hold water, we would have to see evidence of the individuals trying to make themselves look like they were racially a member of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Since we know that, as a race, these individuals did not have a specific costume that was universal to all members of their ethnic group we begin to punch holes in their argument. We must then surmize that perhaps if students were painting their skin red, or bronze, or otherwise trying to alter their apparent race, this comparison might be valid. However this has not happened, proving that at heart this isn’t an issue of disguising race, but instead of using a costume.

Wearing the costume of a Sioux Chieftain is not like Blackface, it is akin to dressing up like a knight in shining armor, wearing the wig and petticoat of a colonial gentleman, or putting on a kilt and tartan like a Scottish nobleman. This use of costume as a form of expression is a long honored tradition the world over. One need only go to a Civil War reenactment, a Colonial village, or a Renaissance Fair to see how much we as a society love to honor other cultures by dressing up as them. No one would even think of suggesting these were akin to blackface, because we all know there is no relation. One is trying to disguise one’s race, the other is simply honoring a culture by appreciating their ceremonial dress.

The opponents of Native American imagery need to grow up and drop their racist habits. Most of us learned how to play well with others and how to share back in pre-school. We also learned that for a policy to be fair it must be applied equally, and with no exceptions. No one who ever saw the Chief perform thought he was actually a Native American, there was no attempt to portray racial characteristics. They saw him for what he was, a man in a costume, celebrating a tradition and the beauty of the imagery held by a Chieftan. No one was oppressed by this, just as no Europeans are oppressed when an Asian plays World of Warcraft, using imagery derived from European ancestry. Sharing our costume, culture, and heritage is wonderful beautiful thing, not oppression.

But in the mean time, until logic and reason can win over their racist hearts, I suggest we take a play from their own book and make our new mascot something they obviously honor and love. The Straw man.

-Angry Midwesterner


Angry Midwesterner

I am, as ever, optimistic that the people of Illinois will one day wake up and realize that our current Governor is as much of an idiot as our previous Governors were corrupt. In one example of this idiocy (can you spell ‘patronage’), Governor Rod changed the system from electing Trustees to appointing Trustees, and my award for favorite appointee is Trustee Niranjan S Shah. Such changes have consequences.

The Trustees, led by Mr. Shah, it seems, has decided that the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District is ripping the University off, as well as killing and maiming an occasional student. The MTD provides, at the students’ request, around 8 million rides per year in the Campus core and community. By the way, if you are into hair-raising roller coaster rides, take the front seat of the Quad as it wends its way around the campus, down Matthews street, a narrow thoroughfare choked with poorly parked cars, construction vehicles and jaywalking students chatting merrily on cell phones or oblivious to all with iPods jammed in their ears; down Goodwin to the south housing complex and back down on the west side of campus through Campus town avoiding bicycles, pedestrians (or not), and other vehicles. On a good day there are dozens of near-misses.

Nonetheless, they feel that someone (dare I say a minority owned Chicago transit company) can do it safer, cheaper and better. It must irk these Blago-appointees to no end that the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign trough is not available for their snouts. The Trustees, at Mr. Shah’s insistence, has issued a RFP to study the possibility and report back to the Trustees on the feasibility of the University running its own bus service. Perhaps Mr. Shah was too involves with obtaining lucrative contracts for his Globetrotters Engineering Corporation to remember that the University previously provided such a service, which they relinquished with alacrity when the MTD offered to take over the service. Or perhaps, he was not around when such services were not available at all and 40,000 bicycles congested the Campus area with far less traffic control than the current transit system.

The MTD charges the University, on the basis of a three year contract, an annual transportation fee proportional to the student enrollment. This was $3.5 million in 2006 and $3.1 million in 2005. For this amount, students can hop on a bus anywhere on campus without even showing a pass, and by showing their student ID ride anywhere in Champaign Urbana without further charge. This fee is approved by the Student Senate every contract renewal period and they are free to discontinue at the end of any contract period. The previously mentioned Quad runs every 5 minutes. Given that the campus is several miles north to south, the ten minute interclass period is insufficient to walk even a quarter of this distance unless you happen to be an Olympic-class runner. Students feel that this is a good service.

How good becomes more evident when you consider that operational expenses are subject to a 55% reimbursement through the Downstate Operational Assistance Grant, issued each year to downstate (e.g., not Chicago) transit districts. In 2006, the MTD received $10.8 million in operating assistance. That $3.5 million U of I service costs around $6.4 million. In addition, the MTD operates about 90 vehicles, (costing $300,000 each) and provides fuel, maintenance, cleaning and storage – a significant capital investment. In addition, the MTD provides StopWatch signs which are tied into GPS receivers and computers on the vehicles and which inform waiting passengers of the arrival times of the scheduled vehicles; cell phone text message service to provide route schedule data directly to cell phones; Internet route planning and scheduling; shelters; and emissions reduction and bio-fuel technology to keep the environment clean – more expensive capital assets.

Now starting from a clean piece of paper, the notional U of I transit service would have to establish a desired level of service and provide for the acquisition of capital equipment and vehicles, operate the service and collect the offsetting revenue to fund that service. Since the U of I is not an established transit district, the Downstate Operating Assistance Grant is not available to assist in the funding of the service. This alone increases the revenue requirements. Add to that the depreciation of the vehicles, shelters, equipment, and support structures (MTD: $2.6 million in 2006) and some amortization of the initial capital outlay and you have a service costing a minimum of $8.5 million/year. If this cost is borne by the student population as it is now, the transportation fee becomes $112/semester verses the current $46/semester (assuming 38,000 students). Ah – what is a government plan that doesn’t double the cost to the user? In fact, it would be all but impossible to acquire the vehicles and equipment in a timely manner, develop the campus operating experience, and deploy a system. The immediate result would be a significantly lower level of service.

But when President White, The Chancellor Richard Herman, and the Provost all suggested that this perhaps was not a good idea, Mr. Shah, in an open session of the Trustees, commented that this was not a serious attempt a developing a transit system, but merely a negotiating ploy. Let’s see – how does that work? Oh yeah. Piss off the MTD by being critical of the service, issue a RFP, the results of which show that MTD is charging the U of I a fraction of what the service costs, and use this to bludgeon the MTD when setting service fees for the next contract period. Students remember – The Trustees are here for you!