Justice Department should oversee voting law changes nationwide: not just for racial equality.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: even in the supreme court’s majority (barely) decision, there is some ambiguity:

“…voter turnout and registration rates […] now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare.”

ImageRare, you say? Officials within state Republican party organizations (and voting regulations are traditionally, even in this supreme court case’s opinion, delegated to the state level) have declared, 1) less accessible voting results in more republican victories and 2) republicans generally do not benefit proportionally from minority votes. While that is not a direct association, it can be reasoned that limiting voting rights will result in more republican victories. This disproportionately affects certain minorities- or more accurately, it affects socioeconomically disadvantaged people- and poverty is racially associated. I am also troubled by the idea of “approaching parity” rather than “achieving parity”. I want to achieve parity in voter rights. 

The court’s ruling mainly centers on the notion that regionally concentrated racism is less significant than in the past. In other words, if a rural town in Mississippi wanted to postpone an election because they found out a number of people of color were likely to win, they would have had to clear this with the Justice Department first. The same motion in a rural Pennsylvania town would not need such clearance. The decision says that these two are no different, and I agree. Unfortunately, in both cases, discrimination must now be remedied after the fact. The Daily Show’s John Oliver pointed out that 74 cases of such an intervention have occurred since 2000. The Voting Rights Act does allow a state to get out of the defined territory, by not having an incident for 10 years. Justice Ginsberg, in her minority opinion, illustrated a few of the more heinous recent incidents. I can direct you to some of the news outlet websites in such regions and encourage you to read some of the comments, if you want to see examples of rampant racism in public opinion (example) (another example). 

Whether you agree or disagree with the notion (or actual research) that racism is still significantly more prevalent in certain geographical areas, there are other disadvantaged groups caught in the wake of this decision. I am talking about people with disabilities. 

A number of states have policy which keep people with psychiatric and developmental disabilities from voting. Physical disabilities pose another disadvantage in many cases as well. For example, in 2012, an adult with Down Syndrome in Arizona had to go before a judge in order to argue for his right to vote. His right had been automatically taken away by sweeping legislation which categorically disqualified thousands of people in 14 states, with no due process. Due process is guaranteed to all citizens by the US Constitution. From my perspective, the upside of this recent ruling is that geographical areas are no longer treated differently from one another- but the downside is that people’s rights to vote are less safeguarded than they were before, and can be lost without due process. 

The Supreme Court left the decision to protect voting rights across the board to Congress. Whether our legislators take up this matter is another question. Evidence based decisions on this matter are imperative, and I believe the evidence will show that people with disabilities are as important a demographic as any other group of citizenry in this nation. 

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Snowden NSA leak issues bridge ideologies, media doesn’t know what to do. Social media calls the shots.

Following Edward Snowden’s leak, social media was ablaze with liberals blaming GW Bush for signing the Patriot act, and conservatives blaming Obama for enforcing it. The partisan ambiguity attached to this incident precipitated, as a number of news sites pointed out, Michael Moore agreeing with Glenn Beck. The media doesn’t appear terribly sure of itself, with its heritage of covering partisan bickering with tiny sound bytes and red and blue team cheerleaders. Instead, the news outlets have been reduced to stalking like paparazzi. For the past few days, they’ve been probing Snowden’s background and current circumstances. They’ve been profiling him and interviewing everyone they can grab to predict “the leaker’s” fate. Early this morning came reports that Snowden was on the move, from Hong Kong to Moscow, en route to … “somewhere else… no… Cuba… no… Ecuador!”

ImageWikileaks, whose founder has already had some screen time as either the comic book villain or hero, intervened. An official from Ecuador tweeted confirmation that Snowden was in the process of requesting asylum, similar to the still-in-progress Julian Assange playbook. Think about that. Think about all of this. Social media is calling the shots here. From Wikileaks to NSA security concerns, social media moves more quickly and covers more thoroughly. It’s raw, of course. There are, of course, drawbacks to the platforms. Erroneous, superficial, or irrelevant details tend to spread like wildfire, and make up a thick layer of muck. 

While the media stalks Snowden around the globe, serious questions about surveillance are being asked from the dark corners of the web. Those are the issues that affect every citizen. Like a burger connoisseur touring the slaughterhouse, it seems like portions of the public do not want to confront what they’ve known for years- that one way or another, we’re being watched. Alternatively, you’re fine with being watched, but want to know why some guy with a thumb drive can walk away with our secrets.  

Will social media continue to set the agenda? I think in the very least, social media has afforded us democratic participation in the conversation, like never before. The situation is complex. The legal and sociopolitical issues are even more so. But we get to discuss it! How awesome is that? While the media and government continue tracking this guy to his destination, the rest of us have the opportunity to set the agenda.

Economics in World of Warcraft

I was just thinking the other day that if I wanted to teach economics, I could do so using the MMORPG World of Warcraft. It’s nothing new that MMORPGs have been tapped for learning. There are teachable moments all over the place. 

In my case, I was, just the other day, hoping to get my hands on a crafting material called “haunting spirit”. It’s the latest stuff to make my little boots and hat, which my character has been wanting for months. As with any “latest stuff”, the demand is high for a low supply item, so the cost is high. People obtain the haunting spirits by deconstructing (“disenchanting”) items they win in some of the end-game encounters for which you need coordinated groups. While some folks have the time to get to a million gold (in-game currency), I only play one character and make reasonable amounts by using economic principles. Here is what I have done in order to acquire 14 haunting spirits: 

A few weeks ago, haunting spirits were dropping from 20,000 gold to 10,000 gold. While I could have purchased 14 of these, it would have depleted my “in-game life savings” by at least half- and as players go, I’m pretty well off in that pixelated world. I decided that I don’t like that price, so I played the auction house

Playing the auction house is like playing the stock market. You can set prices through buying and selling, particularly if you have volume or take risks. I took a risk. I found someone who would sell me a few of the “haunting spirits” at a rate below the in-game market. This meant I could flip them and make a profit, but that isn’t the purpose- the purpose is to obtain enough haunting spirits to make my boots and hat. I need 14 and now I have 4. Do I hold onto those 4? Nope. 

I asked myself, “how much would I like to pay for 14 haunting spirits?” and I answered, “mm, about 3000 gold each.” (On my server, this is a good price right now.) So I listed two of my haunting spirits below the lowest price on there, which was 4750 or so; but above the purchase price that I paid, so I wouldn’t lose out if the market didn’t budge. This is a risk. My object is to get someone to undercut me. Maybe someone will undercut him or her, too. That’s what happened, in fact. Someone undercut me and listed just over 3000 gold. So I took mine off the market and re-listed to undercut them again. They came back in a day and undercut me again. So I bought them and cancelled my auction. 

That is called manipulating the market. I had 4 haunting spirits, but wanted 14. I started a price reduction fight, which, if I keep prodding it, will result in cheaper materials. 

This reminds me of Walmart. For every low price, we’re paying someone that much less for his/her craftsmanship and efforts. Not that I think an artificially inflated value is a good thing either, but opportunity cost is an often fluctuating thing that isn’t just driven by demand- it’s driven by manipulating forces too. For people away from the keyboard, “in real life”… economic instability is no game. It has dire consequences.

If there’s one thing I can learn from World of Warcraft about economics, it’s this: buy low, sell high, and watch for fluctuation- that is where money is lost… and gained.

Why journals can either kill or refine research.

In popular culture, cutting edge research often makes its way into social discourse the same way as Justin Bieber’s latest gaffe or a delusional conspiracy theory might. News media continues to reduce story details to 7-second sound bites, and 90 second reports. Twitter reduces a thought to 140 characters. Today, I go to revise a research journal article to manuscript guidelines, and am limited to 3000 words.

striatic / Foter.com / CC BY

3000 words to convey science has its ups and downs. I must think carefully about what to cut out. I must consider carefully whether to use a table or a chart. APA format takes me only so far, before I begin to question whether I am giving a complete picture of what I am trying to do. If you read my results without the implications, I’m heaping negativity on the video game industry. What will the news cycle do to my research? Journals can either kill or refine research.

The brief length of your average journal article, and the academic systems that seem to support journal publications over book writing and other research dissemination practices, seem to indicate an academic sector still doomed to the reductionism we’ve been decrying for decades.

On the other hand, a limited amount of space corresponds to the ability of people in the field to digest information in a useful way. It forces me to think about how I can represent something graphically instead. It forces me to prioritize what is most important. It causes me to think carefully about what I want people to take from the research. What will this look like when someone tries to reduce it to a 140 character tweet?

I hope it will look refined. Research is like a child that I want to raise with all the right values, but when I send it out into the world, it will reflect on me- I hope it behaves itself and gives birth to more good research!

Stripping professor at Columbia U: With the credibility of higher education under attack, this happened.

So, this happened. Columbia University faculty member Emlyn Hughes stripped amongst other academic freedoms which he put to the test, in what may appear to be the most arbitrary introduction to Quantum Physics ever.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/59932634″>FroSci Gone Wild</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user4615152″>Bwog</a&gt; on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I have mixed feelings about this. If academic expression comes under fire, no matter how heinous, a precedent will be in place for control by overbearing market forces, and government control from left and right wings. On the other hand, academia’s outcomes are in question right now. Students who climb the entire ladder to a PhD are not likely to find a something at the top to justify the climb, at least in the form of an academic job. Alternative careers, alternative means of education, and alternative delivery systems are clamoring for center stage. And this guy strips.

A few weeks ago, students caught cheating at Harvard were “forced to withdraw” for “between two and four terms”, in a course taught by a professor who allegedly “gave out 120 A’s last year and [will] give out 120 more.” Academic websites are abuzz with grade inflation scandals and stories of students who expect to purchase perfect marks by virtue of tuition paid.

And this guy strips.

I make a lot of mistakes when I teach. I enjoy discovering my blind-spots and learning from my mistakes. I hope I never add to a growing body of evidence that higher education is making itself irrelevant. So I will keep my clothes on- while this guy strips.

When the state tells you what field to go into

Senate Bill 14 and why I care professionally

The North Carolina legislative process recently pinched out a frighteningly brief bill (law) that appears to bypass that whole pesky notion of vocational and career theory, and instead herds large groups of students into career and technical education. I think skilled labor has high value, both as an economic resource and for personal development. It’s also such a broad career category that spans multiple domains for aptitude and interest. However, the data surrounding this law’s reasoning has me feeling intellectually nervous.

Jonathan Pobre / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

A huge part of my profession as a rehabilitation counselor, is vocation. One of the more typecast roles for rehab professionals is to assist persons with disabilities in choosing, obtaining, and retaining suitable employment. These disabilities can be physical, mental health, developmental, or relate to substance abuse. They must be chronic enough to pose a barrier to employment in a significant manner. I specialize in addictions, but my passion for teaching as a ‘newbie’ in academia has made me a horizontal generalist, meaning I branch out into a lot of areas of interest instead of becoming a greater expert in one. That will hopefully change when (if?) I can land in a tenure-track research spot. Most Ph.D.s don’t make it into academia, and some of those don’t last- but it’s something I want to try, because I believe I have a lot to offer in terms of innovation. I believe technology is already changing the landscape, drastically, for people with varying abilities in work and leisure- for the better. Anyway, I teach a bit about career theory, as well as counseling theory, and also about job placement and occupational analysis.

Anyway, I live in the state of North Carolina. I become engaged in politics when I see its pertinence toward people with disabilities, or education, in particular. Right now, there’s a lot of buzz about labor and social services. The latest bill, “Increase Access to Career & Technical Education” includes provisions to lessen standards for career and technical teachers seeking licensure. It doesn’t exactly explain how, it just mandates it. It goes on to designate high school diplomas with specifics on what types of work a high school graduate is prepared to do. That scared me a little bit, because of all the data that shows career exploration goes on well into our 20s and 30s. Donald Super would say it’s lifelong, in fact, with mini cycles changing our vocational directions as we proceed. Another aspect of the bill, and probably my least favorite, directs our education system to direct students away from college and into career and technical fields. I want to highlight these latter two areas, diploma branding and guiding students into education sectors based on the supposed current job market, from my standpoint.

Diploma Branding

The language of the bill with regard to diploma branding is as follows:

The State Board of Education shall make high school diploma endorsements, as provided under this section, available to students graduating high school beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. […] The State Board of Education shall submit the report on the impact of awarding the high school endorsements on high school graduation, college acceptance and remediation, and post-high school employment rates by September 1, 2016, and annually thereafter.

Governor McCrory recently admonished his citizenry against liberal arts degrees, many of which actually have some of the highest bachelor level employment rates- even when stacked up against some of the science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. This bill goes one step further, urging high schools to remind colleges that students may require “remediation”, and its success is thereby measured through students’ alternative post secondary education choices: career and technical schools. What are some examples of remediation in college? Well this is where my profession comes into the picture. Disabilities often result in college remediation.

Extra Ketchup / Foter.com / CC BY-SA
  • A specific learning disability (e.g.: math, reading, or written language) means, broadly put, that a student’s intellectual range of functioning is average or higher, while there is impairment in one category. This phenomenon often means you’ll have someone who excels in “everything but math”, or “anything except writing”. Similar categorical skill deficits sometimes result from an autism spectrum, or dyslexia, or even a time-limited developmental delay when basic skills were first being learned. I know a number of engineers and scientists who had dyslexia. They “mathed” me under the table, but they would require writing remediation in college. This law would seek to dissuade them from trying. Imagine the difference in quality of life between a full time software engineer and a full time computer network installer- the difference being that one of them got remediation in college to help with written content.
  • Other hiccups from our schools often result in the need to remediate for bad teaching or guidance, an acute situation for health, or a curriculum continuum mismatch  after a move or school change. Sometimes a student doesn’t receive appropriate services based on a disability, which results in missing material that is pertinent to college prerequisites. An example of this may be a student who misses a great deal of classroom content due to a sickness or physical condition, but has the aptitudes for college. Such a student may conceivably have aced a GED, maybe collects the credits to graduate from high school- but could not complete the foreign language requirements many colleges have. When such a student is admitted to college, he or she receives remediation in foreign language. This law seems to dissuade colleges from accepting such students based on a prescriptive diploma endorsement.

I believe that we need a clever workforce, and that any notion “career and technical trades are for the less bright” is absolutely wrong. Completely, ridiculously wrong. The last thing I would want to do is to make the presumption that intellect should be the determinant for college. Unfortunately, this law may do that too- by narrowing the gates to [generally] higher income, and employment. This is done in part by using such a narrow, uniform measure as a designation on a diploma. Career aptitude measurement is a multifaceted process- it cannot be done with a diploma brand. But let me repeat that college grads have higher income and lower unemployment.

Guiding Students into Career Sectors

WHAT?! Did I just say that college grads have higher income and lower unemployment? Yes, but there is a lot of variance in the data. For that reason, everyone has an anecdote about so-and-so who lives in his or her parent’s basement with a degree in Anthropology. There is this almost derogatory notion that the workforce is saturated with liberal arts folks who aren’t prepared for specific jobs. However, I have two reasons to take issue with this line of thinking. First, Liberal Arts is a valuable degree for a wider variety of jobs; and second, the data says going to college [generally] makes sense, if you possibly can.

  • Liberal Arts is a valuable degree.  The beauty of career theory is that it looks, depending on the theory itself, to match a person with the appropriate calling. I hear government officials talking about “jobs“, but I would argue that if you prepare someone for a job that is dependent upon a free market (especially a turbulent market like today), when the job is gone, the education has been wasted. On the other hand, if you prepare someone with the abstract skills to apply one’s self to a myriad of different workplaces, that person will thrive in various environments. The idea of a person / environment match is much different from traditional ideas of workforce. If we simply assigned people to jobs based on the jobs’ needs, we’d have unhappy people expelling very little discretionary effort and they’d turn out complete crap results. They won’t enjoy their work and they’ll use sick days. People with disabilities are no different when it comes to “work that sucks” – it’s not that some of these are lower jobs. It’s that they may not be in the right career, when you limit their options. We shouldn’t be planning the education of a generation based on employer workforce whims. They’ll waste a lot of money in the end, and they’ll leave as quickly as they arrive. It’s a nightmare. I’ll spare the Godwin’s law material about fascism and assigning jobs based on the needs of the state, because it’s ideology. Instead, I’ll use some data.
  • The Data shows benefits for going to college. Here’s a raw version for unemployment and earning potential. A simple read of Senate Bill 14 would appear to mean that the state is directing that a greater proportion of the workforce be coerced into a job sector with lower earning potential and higher rates of unemployment:

The State Board of Education, in collaboration with the State Board of Community Colleges, shall develop strategies to increase the number of high school students engaging in career and technical education, especially in the areas of engineering and industrial technologies, and in other occupations with high numbers of employment opportunities.

This is being done for the needs of the state, which are being emphasized over and above individual career development and vocational choice. This is every bit as important (and maybe even moreso) for someone with a disability, where increasing a person’s specific vocational preparation levels can reduce or remove barriers to entire professions and millions in potential lifetime income.

Concluding My Thoughts

Can you imagine having your diploma stamped a certain way, by your state government, because that’s what private employers want it to say? I think that’s wrong. But let’s say we’re just looking at this from a state government  supply-and-demand point of view. Here are some summary reasons why I think mandating young high school graduates to undertake a specific job sector is wrong for the state:

  • We’re pushing a new generation into an over-saturated job market. In another legislative action, North Carolina has ceremoniously and cheerfully cut unemployment benefits in their scope, as well as in their length. This means in July of 2013, 170,000 unemployed people in North Carolina will be, according to the logic of the bill, looking harder for work than they were before. They’ll be more interested in “doing whatever possible” to meet basic needs with low wage jobs. This will apparently bring employers to our state, knowing that this labor is cheap and desperate- but will 170,000 new jobs arrive in North Carolina over 6 months? The other presumption is that there are current jobs which the chronically unemployed just should have settled for, but their benefits were too high. Keep in mind that graduating seniors will enter that very same job market. There are simply more jobs available to educated people than to lesser educated people, as illustrated here.
  • We are solving an over-saturated job market by lowering our citizens’ education, when we could instead attract higher educated jobs and employers. Education level is associated in the developed world with industrial advances, higher standards of living, and reduced crime and criminal recidivism. Be sure to click on those links.

Finally, because there is a culture in this state and nation to engage in testimony-based political discourse, I add the following: My bachelor’s degree is a liberal arts degree, and I have never been unemployed. I have always chosen my career and professional moves, and always will. I cannot imagine where I’d be if my high school guidance counselor had coerced me into something technical- or mandated it as such by stamping it on my diploma.

Broken Hearts and Examples of Hope in “Azeroth” and Beyond

sitOne of the many aspects of gaming is community- and with that comes social despair and also social redemption. I pretty much always hold to a principle of “good-karma gaming”, or “enlightened gaming” whereby players recognize their roles as not only competitors, but as human beings who intentionally play among other human beings as opposed to on a console with no connection. Enlightened gaming, from the way my compatriots and I have always understood it, has been exemplified through an openness to fairness, kindness, and helpfulness. This means that competition isn’t rooted in making someone feel bad, but rather in skill and chance. Do I enjoy “pwning”? Yeah. That is skill and competition.

posIt doesn’t mean someone has to feel bad, get called names, get ostracized.

I’ve been part of communities in counter-strike (1.5 and on), Diablo II and III, and World of Warcraft, which held such a principle in common. In some of these games, it took a while for me to find like-minded people. I feel there are a number of continuums through which we can understand gamers’ levels of positive and negative regard.

Reasons to like you

I am cognizant, appreciative, and in awe of the work of Nick Yee with regard to gamer behavior and motivations, which I don’t want to reproduce here, nor conceptually replace. He is ridiculously thorough, an absolute genius, and a mentoring presence as I grow into the researcher I want to be. Rather, I am reflecting on my experience of a selected social order within massively multiplayer online gaming and how it relates to player-to-player relations, positive and negative.

Image

The first is how players relate to one another in relation to competition. The simplest way to look at this is through the lens of “newb vs. pro” and to see those two extremes as treated synonymous with “dis likable vs. likable”. Quite simply,

if you suck, we hate… but we’ll love, if you dominate.

I’ve experienced a number of guilds, clans, groups, communities, and anecdotal situations in which this simple formula dictated players’ regards for one another. A friend of mine pointed out a fascinating and all-too-common story of a misfit gamer whose ostracism seems to have resulted only from a lack of skill and diminished capacity to take minimal helpful cues. In this case, his entire realm (one of hundreds of servers each of which house thousands of players) has blackballed him from raiding and guild membership. That takes place on a South Korean server, where apparently the spirit of hardcore play appears significantly more rigorous than the spread of hardcore through casual through “just for laughs” guilds that cover the landscape of western servers in Europe and North America. But I’ve seen similar dispositions toward players on a guild and community level, who simply weren’t so skilled. It’s easy to feel empathy here, isn’t it? Not necessarily- it depends on who you’re talking to in these games. My World of Warcraft Guild has a policy- we won’t kick anyone from a raid (not guildie, not pug) unless their conduct is rude. We’ll wipe all night while we teach and learn with one another. So we don’t like to measure a person as far as his or her skill. … but what about trolls?

Troll me once, shame on you. Troll me twice, shame on you also?

A few years ago, I encountered my first friendship with a repentant “trade chat troll”. For non-WOW players, trade chat is a chat channel with perhaps the most access to communicate across an entire realm (server)- accessible to the gamers in major cities in-game. The latest game expansion has, to be sure, dispersed the player population into the new world a bit, but trade chat still has its role as a main drag for communication. A troll is best understood as someone who draws negative emotion and reactions from the masses through what he or she says in chat. This isn’t simply someone getting a laugh- rather the goal is a negative attention goal. I like to make this distinction because there are many positive forces in gaming who rally the troops, cheer people up, or counter the trolls’ negativity with positivity. Those aren’t trolls- they’re anti-trolls! Anyway, I met a troll who wanted to change his ways, one day. This was a super-troll, someone who could simply say “hello” in trade chat and his preceding reputation would extract negative reactions based on past history.dead

This guy could not get into a raid, and only the loosest (and, unfortunately, disorganized, unfriendly, boring, dead) guilds would accept him. The guild of which I was (and still am) a member, decided to take a chance on him, as a few of us had interacted in player-vs-environment and player-vs-player content with him before, and found him to be skilled and friendly. We offered to help him reform. It was difficult, but he reformed. He also grew annoyed with having to reign himself in, and eventually found our guild to be a bad match and moved on. What he didn’t do was wreck us, or bring drama. We don’t do drama. Since that time, we’ve taken in at least one other troll who wanted to reform, with positive results. It feels good to be a community for people who want to participate in community. We had expectations, however- that he not misrepresent us by going back to his old habits while wearing our tag. We’ve asked people to leave our guild if they were abusive to others, communicated in homophobic or racist ways, or if they felt like their competitive edge required them to be rude or condescending to others- either inside or outside the guild. We enjoy being a community whose purpose is not only in-game friendship and gaming content, but also in helping to form the greater gaming community by example. We’re a casual guild, but we’re hardcore about community.

What’s it all mean?

I’m one of those people who believes that gaming has a great deal to teach us. My most high profile research thus far has been to collect what is apparently the largest sample thus far, of MMORPG gamers (players of WOW) for the purpose of addiction screening; but it’s far from my quest to add more hasty presumptive science to the literature against technology, internet and gaming… far from it. I can’t really go into it right now, but the thing we need to do is to harness the power that people, addicted or not, experience from gaming. Here are the assumptions and

  • There’s a soul behind every monitor. MMOs are a training ground for empathy. (among other things)
  • Mistakes are par for the course. MMOs are an opportunity to learn how to learn.
  • Organizations are everywhere. MMOs are a place where community experiences can inform organizational behavior.

With this blog post, I’ve been purposefully vague with regard to some of my favorite (and more defined) areas for gaming discourse, like gamification, addiction (I think it exists, but it’s with the person, not the game), and public policy. It’s my intention to explore experiences and not to write journal articles here, because I’m writing journal articles to hopefully submit elsewhere, as part of my career. However, I’d appreciate getting to know folks with similar scholarly interests, as I try to take part in conversations on a more academic level as well. Thank you so much for reading, and please share with others. If you don’t like what I have to say, well- that’s ok too. GG!