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Barack Obama: The Latest in a Line of Cowboy Presidents?

Saturday, November 8, 2008
In an interesting choice of headwear, President-elect Barack Obama, who, in speaking a great deal about bringing change to our country, has tapped into the hope many Americans have for a Democratic wresting of power away from a president who has been caricaturized as a gunslinging Yosemite Sam-style cowboy, is seen in the photograph to the left wearing the style of chapeau most often associated with his cartoonish predecessor:

Of course, the cowboy hat is an American institution and Mr. Obama can be seen as merely the latest in a long line of American presidents who have chosen to don the iconic staple of Western wear:

George W. Bush:

Bill Clinton:

George H. W. Bush:

Ronald Reagan:

Lyndon Johnson:

Theodore Roosevelt:

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____________________________________________ Rates Your University, a website on which students may anonymously leave comments on a given professor's relative strengths and weaknesses, has recently released a list of the fifty highest ranked colleges based on student assessments of each institution's respective faculty. "Selecting only schools with a minimum of at least 30 rated professors," the website informs us, they "computed the average professor rating for each school (only professors with 30 ratings or higher)" before they were "ranked from high to low according to their average rating."

Although the authority of the list is no doubt limited by its having been based upon the voluntarily offered rankings of individual instructors by students who have sought out the website (clearly, a student could submit multiple ratings for the same instructor and those that visit the website are not necessarily representative of a school's entire student body), it does provide us with some food for thought. For instance, schools most often ranked highest by US News & World Report, say, or the Princeton Review, are conspicuously absent from the Ratemyprofessors list (a single Ivy League institution -- Cornell University -- clings on to the last spot, for instance). One possible interpretation of this fact is that research-oriented universities tend to hire faculty less for their ability to teach then for their ability to produce journal articles or conduct research. The problem with such a scenario, of course, is that while students are drawn to certain institutions for the quality of education its reputation seems to promise, they are often met with indifferent or ineffectual scholars wholly uninterested in teaching. Naturally, this is but one possible way of interpreting a thoroughly unscientific body of data. . .

The rankings, as determined by the website's users (italics denote schools likely to appear very high in other rankings):

1. Brigham Young University
2. Southeastern Louisiana University
3. Christopher Newport University
4. Stephen F. Austin State University
5. University of Houston
6. Texas Christian University
7. Augusta State University
8. University of Central Oklahoma
9. College of William and Mary
10. Grove City College
11. James Madison University
12. Grand Valley State University
13. Florida International University
14. University of Texas at San Antonio
15. University of Virginia
16. Florida State University
17. Louisiana Tech University
18. Liberty University
19. University of North Florida
20. George Mason University
21. West Virginia University
22. University of Delaware
23. University of Central Florida
24. Utah Valley State College
25. University of Northern Iowa
26. York College of Pennsylvania
27. Marist College
28. College of Charleston
29. University of South Florida
30. Jacksonville State University
31. Oakland University
32. American University
33. San Francisco State University
34. Appalachian State University
35. Indiana University of Pennsylvania
36. Northeastern University
37. Radford University
38. Towson University
39. Bradley University
40. University of Tennessee at Martin
41. Virginia Commonwealth University
42. Old Dominion University
43. Nicholls State University
44. Oregon State University
45. Boston University
46. Northwest Missouri State University
47. University of Florida
48. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
49. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
50. Cornell University

Among the "elite" schools missing from the list are Duke, Harvard, Brown, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Emory, University of California-Berkeley, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Chicago, Stanford, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


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Howard Zinn Will Vote For Nader After All

Sunday, November 2, 2008
After having added his name to the list of leftists intending to vote for Barack Obama out of anti-Republican sentiment, Howard Zinn has written a letter to Ralph Nader in which the historian admits that he "was wrong in saying that he would vote for Obama" and promises the consumer advocate that he "will vote for [Nader]." Admittedly, Zinn seems to imply that, were Massachusetts not a "slam-dunk state" for the Democrats, he would have cast his vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday.

At the heart of this story is something I have been discouraged by, namely the tendency of self-described liberals to vote for Barack Obama less out of a genuine enthusiasm for the man (though, undeniably, the Illinois senator does seem to elicit the sort of fervor one might expect of tweens attending an N'Sync concert from decidedly un-tweeny people) than out of a hatred for George W. Bush and the GOP.

The argument, of course, is that Barack Obama is better than the Republican alternative.

Thus, when I tell people that I intend to cast my vote for a third party candidate, I am greeted with the same sanctimonious refrain I hear every four years: "you're throwing your vote away."

And I hate that sort of bullshit. It's presumptuous to assume that I would want to give my vote to either of the major party candidates if I did not have a third party candidate for whom I felt any preference.

When the pro-Obama pragmatists fail to convince me with their case -- you wouldn't want another Republican in office would you? -- for my supporting their candidate, I am often accused of cynicism, which is ironic. It is ironic because it is precisely my lack of cynicism that enables me to vote for the person I feel I should support. If I were cynical, I would agree that my vote is worthless and that, if anything, I should accept the lesser of two evils as the best choice. But I do not believe this to be the case. The minute a vote for someone becomes a vote against someone, it ceases to be a vote for anything. It signifies a giving up, an acceptance of the belief that what one wants, one will never get.

And it is this sort of acquiescence that is exactly what leads to the sort of political stagnation we have in the United States. I mean, the Democratic Party would be considered a center-right party in most of the Western world while the Republicans would be a bit further right. The differences between the two parties, despite the passionate pleas to the contrary, are really quite minor.

And this is my point: I am not voting against Barack Obama nor am I (as some of my more vocal "liberal" friends claim) voting for a conservative America. I am voting for what I want, even if the polls say I won't have my way. If I want a de-corporatized democratic socialism, voting for Barack Obama or John McCain would be throwing my vote away and, if people like me (progressive, liberal, and often educated folks) stop saying "no thanks" to the two big parties, it won't matter that they're wrong because they will have effectively silenced the dissent necessary to bring about real change.

I want change, not the illusion of progress.

And if that hope is too audacious, America's Straight Thought Express derailed at the station.

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