The Arizona Desert Lamp

The People’s Fronts of Arizona

Posted in Education Policy, Politics by Evan Lisull on 27 June 2009

Judean People's FrontThe latest story of education protests against DETH credits the Arizona Education Association with leading the demonstration. Yet the AEA is just the oldest of many organizations that have been formed to lobby on education’s behalf. We’ve already discussed the Arizona Economic Council.  They stand alongside the university-backed Expect More Arizona, as well as the new-media-loving Stand Up for Arizona, the front group of former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson. Then, of course, there’s the Arizona Students Association, the lobbyists on the university’s payroll, and so on. Surely these groups approach education from varied approaches; but at the same time, it doesn’t exactly make for an effective lobbying push. It also doesn’t help that none of the groups seem to recognize the existence of the others, whether on their list of links or their press releases.

But all this underscores the bigger point; namely, that the “education lobby” as a unified force is a fleeting phenomenon. Budget maximalization works as a unifying force, just as the Romans provided a popular common enemy for the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. (“But I thought we were the Populist Front!”) Even now it’s not apparent why, say, Arizona’s community colleges aren’t lobbying for funding at the expense of other university budgets. In fact, this has already happened in the state of Pennsylvania:

Gov. Ed Rendell removed four state-related universities from Pennsylvania’s application for federal stimulus money to help public higher education, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The preliminary federal-aid application had earmarked nearly $40-million for Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln University. But a revised application, made public Friday, would cost Penn State $20-million, Temple $11-million, Pitt $10-million, and Lincoln $870,000. The money would instead go to other state universities and community colleges.

Naturally, the universities mentioned oppose this cut. But can they honestly say that they are doing so in the name of ‘education’? In times of decreased funding, such divergences will soon be more, rather than less, apparent.

Also, bonus quote of the day:

Fourth-grade teacher Liza Green held a sign that said: “Sen. Harper: I’m a trough feeder and I vote!”

Ever thus to democracies, Lebowski.

Obligatory Monty Python video can be accessed here.

ASUA Senate Forum: Some Fear, Mostly Loathing from the Kiva Room

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 25 February 2009

Democracy, in the bathroom“. . . and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

“There’s been great research on your platforms.”

-Jessica Anderson

And so, for two hours, we went.

The format for the event was as follows: each candidate was given a two-minute statement, to talk about themselves and their platforms. The panel – consisting of Executive Vice President Anderson, among others – then asked two follow-up questions. Finally, if necessary, up to two questions were taken from the audience.

The platforms bear further looking into than a single post can bear; already, this one stretches on too far.


Mr. Atjian has big ideas about “culture”; so big, in fact, that he declared that, “I want to spread culture, however that may be.” Can we look forward to an Article 301 in the ASUA Constitution? In reality, though, this seems to be somehow tied in to the idea of “enhancing” the various cultural centers on campus; yet, as he himself said, “I want to spread culture. . . culture can be anything.” Mark one more down in the relativist column.

His second major idea involves reducing the price of books by requiring professors who “use less than five percent” of their textbooks to post the material online. He summed up his idea in the follow-up question when he explained that, “It’s still an idea in the making.” Indeed.


Daniel Wallace attacks the general education system, and proposes replacing two required GenEd units with “assessment” units — an “information resources” and a “critical thinking” assessment. This policy is not that proposed by Dr. Gail Burd a few Senate dispatches ago, which has been scrapped due to a lack of funding. These may or may not be optional credits. Another option includes allowing more classes of one’s major to count for GenEd credit, which somewhat defeats the overall purpose of a general education.

Mr. Wallace also proposes to encourage “ASUA outreach and transparency,” but his proposals seem to involve a good deal of outreach and publicity without even paeans towards genuine transparency.


Mr. Jones started with a focus on the failed CatsRIDDE, zeroing in on the “unacceptably” high drunk driving rate of nine percent (of what? Students? Tucson-wide?). He also freely admitted that, so far as fighting drunk driving, “it’s not really within the Senate’s jurisdiction to do this.” He proposes to mitigate the problem by sending out a campus-wide email, “like E-CHUG,” with a necessary waiver to participate in the program. He also supported sustainability efforts on a “workshop” level, increasing “awareness” of ASUA’s Legal Services, and reiterated his stand against new fees.

Naturally, his stand against fees drew the opprobrium of the ASUA cognoscenti (as usual, a majority of the audience at this event). EVP Anderson questioned how a program like CatsRIDDE could be formed without new fees, while candidate Adam Back wondered about “combating inflation.” While I kept for hoping for support of spending cuts or an ASUA-sponsored kidnapping of Ben Bernanke, instead there were reminders that the fee pledge is ultimately a “one-year deal,” what with the expiration of his term.


As questionable as sustainability measures may be, Ms. Weingartner at least knows what she is talking about when it comes to the issue – a marked deviation from the mean. However, Ms. Weingartner failed to offer a good reason why she should be on the Senate, a body which deals with many issues completely unrelated to sustainability, rather than striving for, say, chair of the ASUA Sustainability Board.


Yes, it is true – the first policy in Mr. Back’s platform is “hugs.” Yet he also encouraged reviving the mysteriously killed liaison position between ASUA and RHA, and spending more money on the “more environmentally friendly” SafeWalk.

Mr. Back also described a particularly malevolent trend seeping into the UA: “We’ve been getting so many emails from special interest groups. . . I’m not going to sign your petition, I’m not going to fill out your survey — I’m going to talk to you.” Interest groups? The horror!

Bonus quote: “I went to Europe for a year. I learned what it was like to be discriminated against for no reason at all.”


Mr. Hudson and his friends are bored by the various aspects of on-campus life at the UA, and want to increase funding for programs that encourage engagement – he cites a visit to Mt. Lemmon as an example. Mr. Hudson and his friends also seem infuriated by the change in the GRO policy, which they have deemed “ludicrous” and “absolutely horrible.” He admits upon questioning that he hasn’t really gotten a chance to look at the actual policy, but that he “will still fight it, either way.”


The agéd one provides insight to these young bucks as he describes his first term as Senator: “I realized that a lot of my platforms from last year were unfeasible.” He cites the failure of his proposal to broadcast classes online, but fails to mention at all his proposal for an ASUA-sponsored anatomy class, with cadavers.

Questions for Mr. Wallace revolved around what he had learned, but he left us with only a proposal for a “scholarship” for incoming students and a one-word vision of “outreach.”


Mr. Yamaguchi wants to increase the proportion of tuition funds that go towards financial aid. His fellow candidate Aaron Elyachar asks from whence these funds will come, which led Mr. Yamaguchi to mention that the relationship between financial aid and tuition must be ‘give-and-take.’ How the current percentage basis is not a “give-and-take” system – the ‘taking’ of more tuition leads to greater total ‘giving’ in financial aid – was not fully explained.

He assures us that he “did a lot of research to see what [he] can do about the financial crisis.” We can only hope that he read his Hayek and von Mises!

Finally, Mr. Yamaguchi proposes to expand food services, as well as providing “printed nutrition tables.” When asked where the funds for such charts would come from, Mr. Yamaguchi pointed toward the democratically-chosen, wisely allocated, student controlled Student Services Fee, and its anticipated rise.


Mr. Klenke supports increased funding for the Women’s Resource Center, the forthcoming ‘Unity Center’, and the CSIL. Where these funds would come from is not immediately clear. He also expressed disappointment on behalf of the WRC and the Pride Alliance that they were not “brought to the table” for negotiations on the Unity Center.


Ms. Evans supports the creation of the Unity Center, as well as increasing its “awareness.” She also supports the formation and/or reorganization of a “social justice library.” While clearly spelling out that her favorite social justice program is A-Town, she fails (along with other SJ affiliates) to provide a concise, readily debatable definition of ‘social justice.’ (Consider this an invitation, commenters.)


Ms. Davidson proposes to expand community service from the UA by instituting a “Big Sister, Big Brother type” of program, and also proposes to “revamp” student orientation. To reform orientation, she would make the event more ‘student-centered’, with smaller classroom settings replacing a larger Day 1 orientation environment. How much it would cost hiring new orientation guides to fill these rooms was not made immediately apparently.


A “proud T-Loc,” Mr. San Angelo seeks to ensure that ZonaZoo “not be cut down.” As a rugby team member, he urges that club sports need more awareness. There needs to be a solution to weekend transportation problems; but “whatever solutions we come up with, they need to not be costly.”

Yet Mr. San Angelo’s most curious remark came in discussing the end result of the student protests: “I think that it is important for all students to have representatives on high priority issues, and that means not increasing student fees.” Mr. San Angelo, if you truly mean this lofty campaign rhetoric, then it sounds like the Arizona Student Fee Protection Pledge is right up your alley.


Mr. Brooks wants to increase student involvement in clubs, focusing on encouraging students who miss the first few meetings of a given club to attend anyways. He also wants to cut down on the cost of textbook prices, by encouraging, among other things, “putting things up on D2L.” Mr. Brooks offered no insight into the cost of electronic licensing versus book purchase.

Mr. Brent Hanson, current ASUA treasurer, asked how Mr. Brooks would bridge the gap for dealing with people “superior to you” with regards to the book issue. Unfortunately, he neglected to ask President Bruce, who was sitting next to him, that same question.


Mr. Slater wants to transform the UA in an “eco-friendly way,” as well as to increase the healthier food options on campus. As the licenses for current private restaurants expire, Mr. Slater wants to replace these with healthier options, though there was no consideration of potential changes in revenue and cost of items. He also floated the idea that “Trader Joe’s might come in.”


To improve class availability, Mr. Searles proposes shortening the class registration periods (presumably, the priority registration periods) in order to prevent the server from being swamped; however, he could not exactly answer Mr. Atjian’s concern that such a proposal might not actually make the process better.

Mr. Searles also proposed to “make people more aware” of the services that ASUA had to offer.


Mr. Bral’s first program is to institute a bike program on campus, “like Paris and DC have.” Before proceeding further on this platform, however, the ultimate result of the Paris bike program bears further consideration. Mr. Bral, after what can only be described as a momentary lapse of memory, was reminded by a question from the panel of his other major proposal: encouraging the creation of a website detailing the impact of state budget cuts in plain English.


Accentuating his points, Mr. Davidoff drove home the idea that the UA should host an outdoor music festival on the Mall. “Tucson is the UA community,” he claimed, and said that this proposed festival should draw not only big names, but respected indie and local groups as well.

He also proposed a Student Rewards Program, which would give some form of compensation – gift certificates, Meal Plan money, etc. – for achieving a certain GPA. However, after being reminded that student GPAs are strictly confidential information, he replied that, “If I don’t have access, I won’t be able to jump [over the hurdles]. I don’t really know.”


Ms. Godfrey, channeling the spirits of ASUA Pulse ghosts past, proposes a “Be Heard” program, which would play off the existing online suggestion box and become so wildly popular that it would be considered as important an online activity as WebMail and D2L.

She also wants to increase community service, with ASUA providing institutional backing for campus-wide community service events…or something.


Mr. Elyachar wants to improve undergraduate retention by five percent within three years (in spite of his one-year term limit). He also proposes to create a “partnership” between ASUA and SafeRide, even though SafeRide is already a program directly under the jurisdiction of ASUA. This would be accomplished by appointing an ASUA “liaison” which would “help SafeRide achieve its goals.”

Finally, sustainability. Don’t act like you’re surprised.


Mr. Quillin asserts that “transparency in terms of tuition dollars is crucial,” and that “positive interaction” between organizations is essential. More importantly, he asserts during a lengthy explanation as to why he chose to run for Senate, that the ASUA Senate “can do whatever they want.” Long live Leviathan?


Ms. Bratt supports the Unity Center, and sustainable measures as well. Yet while Ms. Weingartner approaches the issue from a technocratic standpoint, Ms. Bratt would instead prefer to “mobilize the students,” a phrase that she used repeatedly in her presentation.

Both Ryan Ruiz and Monique Villalobos were absent from the event.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Dead Air

Election 2008: Battle for the Cellar

Posted in Campus, Culture by Connor Mendenhall on 3 December 2008

Excited to cast a ballot in a nugatory campuswide election between three insipid candidates? If so, you’re in luck—thanks to Arizona Student Unions, you won’t have to wait until student government elections this spring!

In a contest sure to appeal to lovers of local democracy and carbon-neutral organic quinoa, the restaurant formerly known as the “Cellar” is submitting its new name and logo to the will of the people. Formerly a purveyor of bacon cheeseburgers, breakfast burritos, and Oreo milkshakes, the restaurant’s menu has been “infused with more healthy options,” like “organic grass-fed burgers,” “bistro egg burritos,” and “hand spun milkshakes.” (The last because, as any local-foodie worth his salt knows, blood, sweat, toil, and tears are directly proportional to nutrition).

They’ve also added a smorgasbord of stuff white people like: “honey mustard grilled wild salmon, apricot chipotle glazed wild salmon, coconut curry shrimp, Thai red curry grilled chicken, blackened tilapia, prickly pear grilled chicken, turkey and veggie burgers, a grilled Portobello mushroom sandwich, quinoa and potato salads and boba teas.”

Bobo tea might be more appropriate, but I must admit that parts of the new menu are more appealing than the old greasy fare. And though I don’t care much about limiting my radish radix radius, it looks like the changes do give students more meal options, which I can get behind.

So what of the election? In the interest of an informed studentry, here’s a brief analysis of the name contenders:


Green Underground Eats:  With edgy typography, Cthulhic tendrils, and the hip use of “eats” as a noun, this candidate is the most radical departure from “Cellar Restaurant.” The term “underground” recalls not just the restaurant’s physical location, but a certain subversive chic. “Green,” of course, is a catch-all appendage for the environmentally conscious. A clear attempt both to convey a message of change and to appear relevant to young voters.

frescolg_horizFresco Honest Eats: A playful but wholesome font; a name and logo evoking the dappled play of summer sunshine across a jumping castle in the Italian countryside. The word “honest” carries a subtle but powerful implicit value judgement, leading us to wonder: how much do we really know about Green Underground Eats’ radical past? Here we again see “eats” employed as a noun, but recontextualized amid “fresco” and “honest,” the term takes on a folksy flair. Fresco is hardworking and energetic, plain-spoken and good-natured. In short, a hockey mom.


Cellar Bistro: The only candidate to retain a vestige of the old “Cellar Restaurant,” Cellar Bistro pays its respects to tradition, but offers a bold update to an old heritage. The word “restaurant” (from Fr. restaurer, lit. ‘restore to a former state’) was first used in Paris in 1765. The word “bistro” also originated in Paris, but not until the early 1920s. Here, “bistro” is a bridge between the rational scientific-innovative spirit of the Enlightenment and the world of the Modern—crucially, a period of the Modern after the indictment of these very values in the Great War. It is at once a call to return to the rudiments of our shared Western history and, especially as evidenced by its organic, primitive (yet humanist!) script, a repudiation of artificial ideology in favor of a more natural pragmatism.

Now go forth, dear readers, and vote! After all, if you don’t voice your preference for one of these three inspired identities, you can’t complain when our grand Democratic Process spits out a stupid one.

Reply to Evan

Posted in Politics by mattstyer on 23 November 2008

This is going to be just a short little reply to Evan. As such I wasn’t whether to make it a post in itself or just respond in the comments, but lo and behold, here it is.

I missed Justyn’s posts that Evan just linked to when I made mine, but I think these two bits stand out as worth quoting:

The Web site’s language is vague – does “setting a goal” mean that the community service will be mandatory or merely encouraged? Making it mandatory for all students presents a host of problems; for one thing, it’s hard to imagine how the federal government could effectively enforce it, short of withholding funds to schools that fail to comply. That seems contrary to the spirit of what Obama is trying to do


….this is, after all, the inevitable divide between republicans who believe in the possibility of popular government and libertarians who think that any manifestation of “the state” is, in Murray Rothbard’s words, “a criminal band.”

The first quote basically speaks for itself. Unless we really fear that Obama is some kind of crypto-Fascist stealthily waiting to draft us all into his movement, rather than some kind of social democrat who  recognizes the importance of some amount of civic spirit and collective achievement, I don’t think we should be too afraid of what will turn out pretty innocuously, even if it succeeds wildly.

Justyn’s second quote is especially pertinent in light of Evan’s assertion that America is different than Europe (true) in that it is uniquely philosophically founded (true) on “Puritan-cum-libertarian” ideals (false). Puritan-cum-libertarian ideals are an important strand of thought in our history, but that completely marginalizes the massive influence of republican ideals in our history. If you’ve got the time, browse through Harvard philosophy prof Michael Sandel’s Democracy’s Discontent on Google Books. I get a distinct feeling listenting to Obama speak that he’s read this book (it’s quite famous), and its general thesis is that the ethos that goes along with laissez-faire is incapable of sustaining a viable democratic culture.

Relatedly, on education, there really is no such thing as a neutral education, or “just education.” Facts go along with values and fit into narratives (like folk theories) of the way things go together, and the way things should be. Educating kids with republican values is no less natural, no more an imposition, than teaching them in a way that emphasizes the private over the public sphere, as current education tacitly does. This has no bearing on which approach is the better one, but I think it’s an important point to make.

Circuses and Bread, Block Parties and Free Gear

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 27 September 2008

Like John McCain’s preemptive declaration of debate victory, ASUA is probably already crowing about the “grand success” of last night’s Voter Block Party. And, as far as block parties go, it was well-done, full of fun concerts and X-Box exhibits and, bizarrely, a swing-dancing floor.

Yet as far as fostering a healthy republic and encouraging responsible voting, it has failed miserably. For as any serious defender of democracy would agree (and I am certainly am not one of those), voters must be educated in order to ensure the health of the state — as Thomas Jefferson put it, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

ASUA ostensibly agrees with this concept; in fact, the motto of the campaign is, “Registration. Education. Mobilization.” Yet at the block party, amidst armies of registering volunteers and games of Guitar Hero, “voter education” was reduced to five pithy (but brightly colored!) 2″ square cards. Well, at least these cards will contain useful, even-handed tidbits of information. . . right?

Barack Obama is 6′ 1″. He was born in Honolulu Hawaii [sic], lived in Indonesia for a few years as a child, and his father was from Kenya. Barack went by the name ‘Barry‘ throughout high school and college. He was the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review. Obama is left-handed, drives a Ford Escape Hybrid, and loves basketball and poker.

Here’s the card on McCain:

John McCain is 5’7″. Due to his military background, he attended over 20 different schools as a child. McCain was a varsity wrestler, earning the nicknames “Punk” and “McNasty” due to his aggressive disposition. He has an adopted daughter from India, and he was born in Panama. McCain also loves the Swedish pop sensation ABBA [Ed: are you even allowed to refer to ABBA as a “pop sensation” thirty years after the fact? This sounds like it was lifted from the back cover of their ‘Greatest Hits’ album].

Here are the factors that ASUA-PIRG-UAVOTES have decided are important issues for student voters to know:

-Height (see Randy Newman for the implications on this one)


-Childhood Homes



-Favorite music groups

And here what the coalition has decided are irrelevant issues for student voters:

-Foreign policy

-Energy position

-Education policy

-Political party membership

-Voting record

-Political philosophy


Even with this People Magazine style voter information, PIRG still managed to slant their view of the candidates. “McNasty’s. . . aggressive disposition?”  Obama’s über-hip hybrid? Somehow the cards manage to discuss Obama’s Harvard Review, but fail to mention McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam? Some may argue that facts are facts (although Wikipedia has nothing on McCain’s purported high school nickname), but any half-educated person knows that the selection of facts are just as important — what is not said is just as important as what is. As PIRG et al have demonstrated, it’s entirely possible to skew a (meaningless) debate using entirely truthful statements.

The other three cards were devoted towards us — your voting group, one might say. First, though, who are we?

Our generation is commonly referred to as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y. We are the most diverse generation in history.
Millennials will be nearly 45 MILLION strong in 2008.
By 2015, this generation will make up 1/3 of the electorate.

It’s hard to say exactly what this is supposed to signify. It seems, however, to follow in a trend of identity politics building (this will become apparent by the final info-card) — vote not as an individual, but as a Millennial. Um, no thanks.

Furthermore, it seems to ultimately be wrapped in a paradox. If we are in fact about to become a huge voting coalition, and WE ARE MILLENNIALS (in the same way, I suppose, that WE ARE ZONAZOO), then why bother registering? Since there are so many of us, and we seemingly represent one voice, why not let the other 45 million go ahead and vote for me?

Also, as far the uncited “most diverse generation” claim is concerned, it’d be interesting to see how the authors of this card square up with these two interesting statistics:

According to the three surveys, 18-29 year olds are now relatively less willing to support a black candidate than voters from other age groups.  While resistance to supporting a black candidate has dropped in every other age group since February, and overall stands at just 8%, it remains basically unchanged among the youngest voters.

. . .

In another odd result that pairs up with the surprisingly greater resistance to a black candidate for President among 18-29 year olds that I noted before, 15% of 18-29 year olds are unwilling to vote for a woman for President, which is a higher percentage than any other age group, including 65+.  Whether this is a backlash against enforced diversity and the like, I don’t know, but it is another one of these curious examples of a small but significant group of young voters being more forthright in their opposition to women and minority candidates.

Next card, in Tangerine Orange:

Over 6.5 million young voters participated in the primary contests or caucuses this year; and increase of 103% over 2004. The 2004 elections marked the largest increase in young voter turnout since 1972.
This generation volunteers in record numbers. They possess strong values and political opinions and connect volunteerism  to social activism. AND THEY WILL VOTE IF ASKED.

Since these cards are being handed out to students at a UA VOTES Block Party, it seems quite redundant to tell them that, yes, they are willing to vote. As far as bias goes, it’s worth noting the catch phrase “social activism”, a long-time favorite of the Left.

As a side question, has anyone bothered to compare the number of young voters to the total number of 18-25 year olds? It seems that the peaks in young voter turnout simply coincide with larger generations (the Boomers in ’72, and Gen Y (or the Echo Boom) in ’04).

Last card:

In 2000, out of the $3 billion spent on the presidential election, $0 were spent targeting young voters.

In 2004, out the $4 billion spent on the presidential election, $50 million was [sic] spent targeting young voters.

resulting in an 11% increase [sic]

2008… what will you make them spend?

The claim about 2000 seems bizarre as well — would anyone be able to tell me with a straight-face that the campaign spent absolutely nothing at any function targeting young voters? Also, if you went from making $0 a year to making $50 million a year, you wouldn’t describe that as an 11 percent increase in your salary.

However, these are all secondary to the more serious problem; namely, the idea that we should actively be trying to make politicians waste more money on political campaigns. Advocating for certain issues — higher education, “textbook cost reduction”, etc. — is one thing, but simply trying to get them to spend money helps no one; no one, that is, except for the student leaders who get to dole out these funds.

And this, honestly, seems the modus operandi of the entire campaign — make politicians spend money on us! Rather than asking the Big Questions of whether money should be spent at all, or whether there might be higher priorities than textbook costs (say, the entire financial market), the campaign is simply content to start building an identity that must be courted, like any other factional group.

The UA VOTES program has stated that after “blitz week”, ending October 6, that they will engage in voter education until October 24. But do they seriously believe that many of these students will come without the allure of block parties and free concerts? “Education is boring; besides, man, I’m in school already — I got enough shit to read already.”

So honestly, if you plan on voting on the basis of one of these two cards and a few Cartel songs, let me offer a word of advice: Don’t.

Perhaps the whole charade was best summed up by Ed-Hardy-coiffed host of the Crocs Next Step Campus Tour (which, incidentally, is not at all associated with any voting outreach effort). His spiel went something like this:

“We’ll hear from another County Attorney candidate — but first, FREE STUFF”

[Crowd screams; two-minute spiel given]

“Hey, how many of y’all registered to vote?”

[Crowd screams]

“It’s real important that y’all vote. . .it’s a big year. . . but first, FREE STUFF!”

[Crowd screams; hats tossed]

Go vote — FREE STUFF — listen to blah candidates — FREE STUFF! This might not just be a summary of the absurdity of the UA VOTES campaign, but an effective depiction of the pork-barreling democratic process itself.