Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sex, Jail, Baseball and Bush

October 23, 2008, 10:00 a.m.

The Day's News

Coach Ferentz going to court; 200-signature petition going to President Mason; UI going to/for Johnson County Jail; Tampa Bay Rays put lie to "you get what you pay for;" 1967 flood warning more evidence of officials' need for Internet research training; UI wants explanation of the part of "public" in "public records" it doesn't understand; Movie "W" sympathetic to Bush

UI Sexual Assault Case: Year Two

Last week marked the beginning of the second year of the ongoing consequences of an alleged sexual assault on October 14, 2007. And there's still no light indicating an end to this dark tunnel.

Today's news contains three, count 'em three, stories related to the case.

Political Science Professor Michael Lewis-Beck's petition, calling for the reinstatement of peremptorily-fired former UI General Council, Marc Mills, has grown to 200 signatures, and will be presented to President Sally Mason late this afternoon. There will, presumably, be follow up stories regarding that meeting. Brian Morelli, "Prof will deliver petition to Mason; Wants Marcus Mills reinstated," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 23, 2008, p. A1.

The trial of the two athletes charged with the assault is scheduled for November 3 (when any media coverage of the case will tend to be overwhelmed by the presidential election the next day). But there are pre-trial hearings as well, and one is scheduled for today. The issue is whether statements made by an accused to the likes of Coach Ferentz, Fred Mims, and EOD (Equal Opportunity and Diversity) folks should be admissible in evidence or, as the accused's lawyer contends, are in essence "involuntary confessions" that should be excluded. The coach, and other UI administrators are expected to attend and testify. Lee Hermiston, "Ferentz expected to testify at UI Sex Abuse Hearing," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 23, 2008, p. A1.

Finally, the Des Moines Register and others have been asking the UI, "Just what part of 'public' don't you understand?" -- as in "public records" that happen to relate to a form of "student records." One federal law says they have to report to the public the campus crime statistics. Another says they must protect student "privacy." Some say the answer is to just remove the student/s' names from documents. Others say that's still a problem. Lee Rood, "U of I wants clarification after request for records," Des Moines Register, October 22, 2008 [and Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 23, 2008, p. A6].

800 Pound Gorilla Goes Directly to Jail, Does Not Pass 'Go' or Collect $200

When biking up town I often go along Capitol Street. I've noticed that it's mostly a University building and the Johnson County Jail, along with acres and acres of automobiles, but never examined it closely. So the other day, thinking about the jail expansion, I biked through the parking lots instead of on the street.

I've not been a proponent of a new jail, though I recognize there is some good data to support the idea. (My preference is for alternatives to incarceration, and multi-county regional jails for overflow -- the former already being done and the latter rejected out of hand). But as I was biking behind the jail the answer was obvious: If we're going to expand the jail wouldn't the cheapest, most efficient and least disruptive place to put it be right where it is now? There's sure plenty of unused space back there.

I forgot about that experience until I read in the Press-Citizen shortly thereafter that our Sheriff had been thinking the same thing -- only to be frustrated by an intransigent, dog-in-the-manger University refusing to sell. Brian Morelli, "UI interested in county jail space; Sheriff: Property's value estimated at $5M," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 21, 2008, p. A3.

That story, in turn, reminded me of the frustration the residents of some of Iowa City's old neighborhoods have had, watching the University destroy neighborhoods that could be real assets for the University as single-family homes, a walking distance from the campus (if not, in some cases, right across the street), that would be ideal in attracting new and visiting faculty to Iowa.

The University is, and acts like, the local community's "800-pound gorilla" ("Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep?" "Anywhere it chooses.")

Nor is the problem limited to the state's universities. It's an issue involving state property needs generally. It has implications for Iowa communities' quality of life, for local property tax revenues, for flood control and flood plains.

It needs to be reviewed by the Legislature. Hopefully it will be. Meanwhile, given the University's contributions to the population of that jail (see stories above), you'd think it could be a little more cooperative and considerate in working with the institution's needs for expansion.

"You get what you pay for"? Not quite. Baseball and university presidents' salaries

How many times have you heard someone -- often a salesperson -- say, "Well, you get what you pay for"? The suggestion is both (a) you should always buy "the best" (even though, for a given task or general purpose, the "good" or "better" may be your "best buy"), and (b) in seeking "the best" the most reliable guide is price. The higher the price the higher the quality.

Over the near-70 years I've been aware of the Consumers Union's (CU) Consumer Reports it has been putting the lie to that canard. If a purchase is important to you, a brief review of CU's hard copy and online independent (no advertising) research can ensure both (a) that what you end up buying will be of higher quality and come closer to your precise needs and wants, and (b) often significant savings.

In short, "you get what you take the time to research and comparison price."

This year we have yet another example from the world of baseball.

I'm not about to predict who will win the World Series. For my purposes at the moment it makes no difference. My point is that this year's American League pennant winner, now playing the Phillies in the World Series, is the Tampa Bay Rays.

So what's the significance of that? Simply that the Rays, with a total player payroll of $43 million, are second only to the Florida Marlins for the lowest salaries of any of the 30 teams in the major leagues. (The Phillies' payroll is $98 million; the Yankees, $209 million.) Art Spander, "Philadelphia Phillies go one game up against the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series; So many subplots, so much artifice. So many cowbells and, honest, cownose rays swimming in a 10,000 gallon tank beyond the right field fence," [London] Telegraph, October 23, 2008, updated 11:06 a.m. (GMT).

"You get what you pay for?" Not if you're goal is to play in the World Series.

It's a story worth remembering next time we buy the "you get what you pay for" line when hiring university administrators (in the last couple weeks we hired another one in the $500,000-$1,000,000 range (salary, plus benefits, expenses, deferred compensation, etc.).

Iowa City has a relatively low cost of living compared with New York, San Francisco, or any of the other large urban areas with major universities. This is true for two reasons. (1) Some costs are lower: buying a house, going to a restaurant, or the theater. (2) Other costs can be avoided entirely: long commutes to work, parking costs, expensive (and expansive) wardrobes of clothes (see, e.g., Governor Sarah Palin's $150,000 campaign expense for two-months' clothes), or country club memberships.

Is there really no one in Eastern Iowa, the rest of Iowa, the rest of the United States or the world, who would be equivalent in experience, intelligence, social skills, judgment, and administrative ability to that of the administrators we now have, who would be willing to accept the prestige of such positions for a "living wage" of say, $150,000?

Just something to think about. Especially when thinking about the amount of money the CEOs who brought us this economic collapse have already taken for themselves.

[Literalists, statisticians, and baseball professionals should be sure to check out Professor Tung Yin's "Baseball and University Salaries," October 23, 2008, for a much more detailed analysis of the "you DO get what you pay for" theory, and a rebuttal of this portion of today's blog entry.]

1967 Report: "The 2008 Flood is Coming! The 2008 Flood is Coming!"

It turns out that Cedar Rapids officials were warned by the Corps of Engineers in 1967 that floods the seriousness of the one we all suffered this year -- or worse -- were well within the range of possibility.

The Report was referred to in a meeting of the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission's Task Force on Flood Plain Management and Hazard Mitigation. Said member Rob Hogg, state Senator from Cedar Rapids, "I've worked on these issues, and I was just shocked that there was a study that I never knew about." Rob Boshart, "Corps Warned of Risk in 1967; Engineers Predicted 'Perfect Storm,'" The Gazette, October 23, 2008, p. A1.

I don't mean to be critical of Senator Hogg, or others who expressed shock at the discovery, but it does illustrate one of my concerns.

When I used to serve on the local school board I would observe "with some 15,000 local school districts in America, it is highly unlikely that there is any challenge we confront that has not been experienced elsewhere, studied, resolved, written up and made available on the Internet."

I'm not sure that's true of this 1967 Report (though there would have been other ways to find it).

Of course it's good to talk things through and share personal anecdotes, opinions and intuition. But it is so much more efficient and productive to, first, do some basic research to find "best practices" from others (without the need to pay hefty "consultants'" fees).

I have always been amazed at the public officials who will willingly take two or four days from work to attend a conference, at considerable public expense, and rationalize the time and expense by citing how much they learn there. And yet they won't invest a half hour or less looking for the answers they need from the billions of Web sites, government and academic reports available to them for free -- and often Google-accessible in far less than a minute.

Movie "W" Sympathetic to Bush

Saw "W" last evening. It's sure not a political propaganda film that George Bush would want to use if he were running for re-election. But neither is it the kind of Saturday-Night-Live-style comic caricature we've seen so much of regarding our president. It won't alter by much your present evaluation of the kind of president he's been. But it will give you some additional sad and sympathetic understanding of why.

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1 comment:

Tung Yin said...

I hate to disagree with Nick -- well, not really -- but judging from this year's playoff teams, payroll *does* matter.

http://yin.typepad.com/the_yin_blog/2008/10/baseball-and-un.html