Archive for social science

The Elephant . . .

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 2, 2015 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Rigging of Foreign Exchange Market Makes Felons of Big Banks,” reads a recent New York Times headline. Recently, four large, international banks pled guilty to charges related to the illegal manipulation of international currency markets. They will pay record-sized fines. Again. 

Actually, the part of this scandal I’m interested in this time around is what’s in the headline. Specifically, I’d like to ask: can a bank even be a felon? And if so, what does that mean?

Let’s think about this. An individual who commits a felonious crime and then pleads guilty will probably receive some sort of punishment and then have a conviction on his or her record. That individual, thanks to the criminal record, will lose certain rights and privileges, depending on the jurisdiction, such as the inability to hold some sensitive jobs or the revocation of the right to vote. And heaven help you if you’re in a three-strikes jurisdiction; repeat offenders run the risk of life imprisonment. 

The banks pay fines. Even if they are repeat offenders. 

If a crime involves more than one individual, sometimes even if that involvement is just tangential or incidental, a host of additional charges and penalties can be imposed, from aiding and abetting to racketeering to conspiracy. 

The banks, after admitting to colluding with each other (and not for the first time) to defraud other market participants, pay fines. 

The elephant in this room, of course, is the fact that banks can’t go to jail, because they aren’t people (this nonsense notwithstanding). In fact, the major purpose for the invention of “corporations” is to provide as many benefits for its members as possible while exposing those members to as little liability as possible. In plainer English, the company’s job is to get the most profit with the least responsibility. 

If you look at what just happened, you can see how good they have become at it. I mean, they just got caught cheating again and managed to get little more than a fine and a warning. Imagine: the express delivery companies get together to hack traffic systems and bribe local cops so they can speed dangerously and deliver packages faster, then they get caught and plead guilty–and all they get is a few speeding tickets. That’s kind of what this is like. 

But even that’s not quite on target, because–as the Times article points out, no one of any significance is going to jail or even paying individual fines. The companies are facing punishment. Basically, a group of people can get together as a corporation, a legally recognized entity, and get away with all kinds of illegal activity without facing real consequences. In theory, that’s the whole point of a corporation, as I mentioned above. 

Does anyone else think it’s stupid that that’s how things are supposed to work?

It’s individual people who make the decisions to cheat. If they don’t face consequences directly, they have no reason to play fair. Ever. Which, of course, is why we see repeat offenders among the “banks.” By which we should always think “bankers.”

Of course, this isn’t just about banks; it’s a problem with the relationship between corporations and the law. Specifically, Mitt Romney was literally correct if you look at the letter of the law: corporations are indeed recognized as people, which allows legal responsibility for misconduct to be redirected from the humans who broke the law to the company designed specifically to protect them from said responsibility–or liability. “LLC” (a common way to organize a company) stands for “Limited Liability Corporation”; think about what that really means. 

What’s interesting is that the legal recognition is constantly reinforced in the law. I mean, have you read any recent legislation? Take a look at H.R. 1907, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which is right now making its way through Congress. In brief, it’s a bill to help protect American interests, both corporate and public, when we get involved in international trade. There’s lots of good stuff in there, if you ask me. There’s also some not-so-great stuff. Then there’s Title VI (Miscellaneous Provisions), Section 608 (United States-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement), Subsection g (Definitions). In this section, we get to see several definitions of a “person.” There’s a “foreign person” (608(g)(2)), which is both any “natural person” (a human) who is not at least a permanent resident and “any foreign corporation, business association, partnership, trust, society or any other entity or group that is not incorporated or organized to do business in the United States, as well as any international organization, foreign government and any agency or subdivision of foreign government, including a diplomatic mission.”

That’s a mouthful, but the point is that section 608(g)(2) of this law specifically defines “foreign person” in a way that includes corporations. Oh, and 608(g)(4) does the same thing with the definition of “United States person.” And 608(g)(3) ges a step further by doing the same for just plain old “person,” except that it specifically excludes governments and government entities that do not operate as business enterprises.

So corporations are people, after all. 

Which brings me back in my question: what does it mean for a corporation to be convicted of a felony? The Times article notes that the public may lose faith in the banks; given the way things have gone in the last thirty years, I’d say that’s a meaninglessly low standard. And it’s definitely not enough to make them stop breaking the rules. 

People need to go to jail. And by “people,” I’m not referring to legally recognized group entities. Because even though a CEO might get fired, he or she isn’t going to get a conviction on their record; they won’t forfeit any of their ill-gotten gains; they’ll probably just go consult for a hedge fund or become a lobbyist. 

At some point we have to look up from the law books, take a step back, and just say this is wrong. Let’s start from there. 

CRSs in the Humanities: Engaging the Short Attention Span

Posted in Technology with tags , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2013 by Bola C. King-Rushing

[Repost from my 4/28/10 entry at The Active Class]

Your lecture is scheduled for 50, 75, perhaps 90 minutes. Maybe it’s a topic the students like, or you have a popular course, and they file into the room buzzing with anticipation. After 20 minutes or so, you feel the room’s energy starting to fade. Students are texting, reading the paper, checking Facebook, or just spacing out. Sooner or later, whether we like it or not, and regardless of class size, it happens. When it does, or possibly before we even get to that point, we often start thinking about “student engagement.”

“Engaging  students” can signify many things. It might be about presentation style; maybe you are as much a showman as a lecturer. It might be about the “hook,” as you find intriguing or controversial ways to introduce and discuss a topic. Or it might be about making the students interact, whether it’s with you, with the material, or with each other. No matter what path to engagement you prefer, it usually boils down to getting and keeping students’ attention.

Clickers are one way to increase engagement; this benefit has been widely reported, both anecdotally and empirically, especially in science and social-science courses. The large lectures standard in those fields are generally less common in the humanities, although we’re seeing larger class sizes and the transformation of some seminars into lectures in the face of budget crises. How might clickers help us engage students in the humanities, especially in larger courses?

One of the universal uses of clickers is to punctuate a lecture and vary its pacing. Stopping the lecture every 10-15 minutes for a clicker question or two serves several purposes. It can wake the students up just when they might be starting to fade away. They are then are forced to become more active in responding to (and presumably thinking about) a question. Even when clicker participation constitutes a small fraction of the total course grade, students will often pay more attention to the lecture when there are coveted points at stake. Even those students who usually resist engagement in class—those whom Graham et al. call “reluctant participators”—will participate.

Clicker questions can also be used to lessen the amount of actual lecturing that we do. The responses to a question can spur discussion; depending on the class size, you can either turn the lecture hall into a large discussion section, or you can allow the students time to talk things over in pairs or small groups. Peer instruction of this sort goes hand-in-hand with clicker systems. The interactivity can reinvigorate a class in just a few minutes.

In many humanities courses, we’re examining cultural or political issues from particular points of view. Another way to engage students is to use the clicker questions to set the scene or to create both relevance and interest. A colleague of mine, in an attempt to introduce the ideas of consumer culture and symbols, asked her class what kinds of things they did with their Barbie dolls when they were young. She used a handful of responses to create an impromptu clicker survey that showed most people engaging in similar activities. The students realized that “culture” was not just an abstract idea, but something they have a direct relationship with.

Another type of pre-question is the opinion poll. A controversial issue—of which there is no shortage in humanities classes—can be introduced with a question asking to what degree the students agree or disagree with a position. Once they have expressed an opinion, students often feel that they have a vested interest in the discussion, whether it is to defend their own ideas or to learn about others. As it becomes clear that the lecture content or assigned reading has a direct bearing on the issue at hand, this increased investment makes the material more real to them. These and other types of questions can help students connect with the topic at hand, giving them a stake in the discussion—and a reason to pay better attention.

Attention is the name of the game. It’s a no-brainer, but the more students pay attention, the more they’ll learn from a lecture. They will also enjoy the course more, which can create a positive energy-feedback loop for instructors. We know that it’s not easy to hold a student’s attention for an hour.  Breaking the lecture up and making the time investment more personal for students will make things a lot easier for both students and instructors.

For more information on clickers and engagement:

Bart, Mary. “Can Clickers Enhance Student Learning?Faculty Focus. 18 Nov. 2009.

Bruff, Derek. “Engaging Students with Clickers.” Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. 1-38. Print.

Butchart, Sam, Toby Handfield, and John Bigelow. Peer Instruction in the Humanities. Strawberry Hills: The Carrick Inst for Learning and Teaching in Higher Ed, 2007. Print.

Draper, Steve W., and Margaret I. Brown. “Increasing Interactivity in Lectures Using an Electronic Voting System.” Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 20: 81-94. Print.

Graham, Charles R., Tonya R. Tripp, Larry Seawright and George L. Joeckel III. “Empowering or Compelling Reluctant Participators Using Audience Response Systems.” Active Learning in Higher Education 8.3: 233-58. Print.

Patry, Marc. “Clickers in Large Classes: From Student Perceptions towards an Understanding of Best Practices.” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 3.2 (July 2009).