Friday, August 26, 2011

The old and the new

Greetings. If you're visiting here for the first time, please feel free to look around. I have nearly 8 (!) years of blogging archived here, but as of August 2011, I'm no longer updating this site.

You can find my current personal blog at (which includes links to my other writing), and I also write frequently for The Idler.

Or, of course, I'm on Twitter at @craiggav

If you need a good place to get started, check out my "Best of Wordwright" post from July 2010, or my list of publications at

Happy reading!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another fantasy political speech

I'm just sick over the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona over the weekend, which left six people dead, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.

I don't have that much of depth to say about the whole thing. The shooter, Jared L. Loughner, seems to be a genuinely disturbed individual, whatever consolation that may be, who cannot really be categorized as "left" or "right."

However, it's more than a little unsettling how much violent political rhetoric has been flying around in general over the past few years, and in Gabrielle Giffords' district (among others) in particular. This included a poster produced by Sarah Palin's PAC with a gun's crosshairs over Giffords' district, and Giffords' opponent using as a campaign photo a picture of himself in military fatigues holding a combat rifle, and a campaign event in which attendees were invited to fire "a fully automatic M-16" to "get on target" to remove Giffords from office.

I don't think it's reasonable to blame either Palin or Jesse Kelly for the actions of a single unhinged individual. However, I'd really love to see Palin or someone stand up and say something like the following:

"In addition to the condolences I've already expressed to Representative Giffords, her family, and the families of all those who were injured and killed this past weekend in Arizona, I believe that these tragic events demand that each of us do something more than express sympathy. This is a chance for all of us to take a minute and look at ourselves, and the culture that surrounds the way we elect and evaluate the people who represent us in our government.

"While there's no evidence that the shooter had any connections to any political group, in light of what happened I deeply regret that my Political Action Committee created a poster with an image that could easily be interpreted as placing a gun sight on Representative Giffords' district.

"This act of terrorism—and let's be clear that this was an act of terrorism— hasn't changed my core beliefs, and I remain committed to the many freedoms we cherish in the US, including legal and responsible gun ownership and freedom of speech. But it's time for us all to take a moment to reaffirm that in the big picture, we're all on the same side. Without ignoring our differences, we're all Americans, motivated by our love for our country and what we believe is best for it.

"In recognition of this fact, from today forward I and all campaigns associated with me are making a commitment to refrain from violent imagery or rhetoric aimed at any individual.

"We will never stop fighting for the things we believe in, and to convince those who disagree with us. But it's time to reaffirm what patriots on both sides of the aisle have always known: Our tools are words and ballots, not threats and violence.

"We will continue our struggle to be worthy of the political system we have inherited, and to do honor to the ideals enshrined within our Constitution. We will continue to debate when we disagree, and vigorously, with a commitment that those who serve our nation should do so without fear of violence."

That's my dream, anyway, and while there's no real danger of Mrs. Palin ever earning my vote, she would earn my respect.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Know your battles

Let me start off, like a good academic, with a caveat. I read the political cartoonist Chuck Asay pretty regularly, and while this in no way implies that I agree with the man on a regular basis, it means that I find him interesting, entertaining, and at least occasionally thought-provoking.

But, today. . .

Setting aside the "Obama and colleges are dirty Marxists" overtones, there's a huge, lazy error in this comic.

Colleges and universities already exist in the free market. They do compete for students, and they're well aware that the cost of tuition is a big part of that competition. (Ask anyone who works in an admission office.) Tuition is, however, far from the only consideration, and it's well-established that students and parents are eager to pay a premium for prestige, in large part because the labor market, on the whole, pays a premium for graduates with degrees from those colleges, even though there's little or no evidence that the quality of education is any better—meaning that paying this premium is an economically rational decision. God bless free markets!

Do you know what are the two biggest factors behind increasing tuition at public universities? 1. The increasing cost of health care, and 2. state-level divestment from higher education. That's right! When the state stops subsidizing its universities, you pay market price for your education!


A. Colleges are already free-market entities. There is no way that "free-marketizing" them will lower tuition because the only way to make them more beholden to market forces than they already are would be to eliminate state subsidies from public universities. Which would raise tuition.

B. The single fastest, most effective way to lower tuition would be to take the cost of employee health care out of education. Maybe through something like national single-payer health care. (Or by making all instructors "part-time" adjuncts, which many schools are well on their way to doing. Good for costs. Not so great for quality of education. But then we've already established that quality of education doesn't matter if you have a prestigious school's name on your degree.)

Complaining about rising tuition is fair. Blaming the rise on Marxism is idiotic. In this case, talking about federal involvement in student loans is a non sequitur.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I'm never in favor of book burnings

A few thoughts which probably don't qualify as full-fledged opinions:

  • That crazy pastor in Florida has every right to burn whatever book he wants, just as I have every right to criticize him for it and publicly ask him to not do it.
  • Just as Park51 has a right to build a community center wherever they want, as long as it meets local zoning ordinances.
  • The difference being that Park51 is not, in fact, an attempt to thumb anyone's nose at anyone.
  • It's sad that the 300+ million people in the US will be judged internationally based on the actions of a 50-member church.
  • Except that, clearly, this 50-member church is expressing an opinion condoned by a lot more than just 50 people.
  • Free speech is hard. Tolerance is even harder.
  • Also, don't expect a lot of thanks from someone because you tolerate them. Tolerance is the bare minimum for civil society. Tolerance is the least you can do to not impede justice.
  • Working toward justice is an entirely different thing, and something we need to get better at.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Three final reasons to vote "yes" on renewing the CADL millage

(Originally published at

1. Library usage is up, not down. In fact, it's way up. And CADL is not asking for one penny of increased funding. Not one penny Seriously.

2. If the millage passes, it doesn't increase your current property taxes by one penny, and the 13 CADL branches and bookmobile continue to operate. If the millage fails, the library closes, and your property taxes won't even decrease enough for you to notice. (Less than 3.5%. Seriously.)

3. Michigan needs to hold on to young, college-educated people, especially families. You've heard about "cool cities"? Yeah, I didn't really buy that either. My family and I don't live in a loft, and we don't want to. We don't want a new nightclub, or a cool place to shop downtown. We want a library. We want story hours. We want a safe place to bring our kids where they can have fun and learn and we can find information on how to kill the dandelions in my lawn or cook a good dinner faster. If you want to keep college graduates in state, fund the library. Seriously.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The library is worth supporting

(An edited version of this letter was run in the June 30 edition of Lansing City Pulse)

In 2005, my wife and I moved back to the Lansing area after an unsuccessful year looking for work in Detroit and the east coast. We knew the area well from our time at Michigan State University, but we were coming back without much of a support system. Our closest family was in Detroit (my father lives in Chicago, and my wife’s parents in New Jersey), and nearly all of our friends had moved out of the area (and the state) after graduation. Our daughter was a little more than a year old at the time, and we were expecting our second.

We were living on a single income, and needed entertainment and educational resources for a stay-at-home-mother to use, as well as a place for the family to get out of the house and meet other families. We found all of this in the Capital Area District Library’s Foster branch, which had a great collection of kids’ books and music, and a weekly story hour. It was nothing less than a lifesaver.

Our children are older now, and my wife and I are both working full-time, but the library is still a big part of our lives. Our daughters check out more chapter books than picture books these days (Cynthia Rylant is a particular favorite), but Sesame Street CDs are still popular, and audiobooks still keep us all happy, healthy, and sane on the long drives to visit grandparents in Chicago, New Jersey, and Tennessee.

On Tuesday, August 3, voters will be asked to renew the millage that supports the Capital Area District Library. Even with increased operation costs and record levels of library use, CADL has not requested additional funds, but only a renewal of the millage which expired on December 31, 2009. This millage covers nearly 90% of CADL’s operation and maintenance costs, and without this funding, the 13 CADL branches will close on Jan. 3, 2011.

The Capital Area District Library is an essential community resource, and one of the best values in the area. In 2009 alone more than 1.5 million visitors checked out 2.7 million items (and logged more than 284,000 hours on the internet using CADL computers). My own family conservatively estimates that we get $148 of use for every dollar of our property taxes that goes to support the library.

Perhaps even more importantly, my daughters get excited when it’s time to go to the library. They love to return books on the conveyor belt in the downtown branch, and the toy trains can’t compete anymore with shelves and shelves of books they haven’t read yet. They meet up with friends by accident or at special events. They sit and read, and read, and read. (Okay, the younger one looks at the pictures and makes up her own story, but it’s a good start.)

This summer, they each got their own library cards, and they treat them as the most valuable things in their purses (which they are).

Please vote to renew CADL’s millage on August 3. The library is a treasure. Let’s keep it around.