Tuesday, January 31st 2006

There is a whole world behind you
posted @ 10:47 am in [ ]

You know what really burns my ass? As it turns out: a small chiminea. I went to a great Chinese/Vietnamese New Year’s party over the weekend, and someone there seriously almost caught his coattails on fire by absently standing too close to the cheery clay hellmouth of a vent. In places like Denver, where sidewalks are barely used and public transportation is… in process, I’ve noticed that a lot of the time, people’s perception of the world ends at their peripheral vision. They have no idea what’s back here.

Take, for example, the very poor multitasker in front of me in the checkout line at Safeway last night. He literally could not talk on his cell phone and walk at the same time, much less talk and unload the four items from his shopping basket at the same time. Since turning around while speaking might have caused some sort of aneurysm, he had no idea that there were several people behind him whom he was holding up while he researched such pressing issues of the day as what his buddies were doing later and whether they would have chips. Fortunately for him, the call ended while it was still an annoyed grocery line, and seconds before it became a line to smack him in the head. I would have been first, and I was already picturing what the shiny little box of synaptic distraction would look like, whizzing through space, still noting the far superiority of Bar-B-Q over sour cream and onion, as it was jarred loose, perhaps along with a few cheerily sailing teeth, or maybe Chicklets, by the first of many smacks.

This is all part of a disturbing trend, I think. When I was a kid, things were pointy. Do you know how many times I came ripping around the corner into the kitchen and smacked my head on that pointy counter? Twice–about as many times as I touched the hot stove without thinking. How many times I accidentally poked myself with the corners of a metal toy? Okay, maybe four or five. But do you know how many eyes I subsequently poked out with it? None, because it was pointy, and I learned to pay a modicum of attention. I think the warning labels on products (do not use hair dryer while in bathtub, do not use snow blower on roof, do not iron clothing while wearing) are part of the same problem: we’re protected in all the wrong ways from all the wrong things.

I know what you’re thinking: those warning labels are there because some mouth-breather actually did those things and then sued the companies. That may be, and that’s another part of the problem. As a society, we don’t take enough responsibility for paying attention to our own lives, so we sue companies when we’re not paying attention and get physically injured as a result. Rewarding that behavior is not doing the species any favors, you ask me. It weakens the gene pool. Plus, it’s not good for the larger society. For example, if I could get $250K for getting brained by a golf ball (double if it breaks my nose), I would line up for that! I think we should adjust the penalties for lame-consumer-suing-corporation-for-his- own-inattention lawsuits based on how long we think the suing line might be. I would still line up to spill hot coffee on my own crotch for $40K, for example, so maybe the cash award should be less. I wouldn’t do it for $50, so maybe somewhere in that range…

Disclaimers: no chimineas were harmed in the writing of this posting. I have never smacked anyone in the head hard enough to knock his teeth–or Chicklets–out. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with, or funny about, breathing through one’s mouth. I am not talking about those lawsuits that are about something substantive, or where the company really should be responsible for the consumer’s medical bills because of actual negligence, just the ones where people weren’t paying attention and hurt themselves, then unabashedly sued rather than admitting the embarassing truth. I really will pour hot coffee on my crotch for $40K. If you don’t believe me, pony up.

Monday, January 30th 2006

Deep DeVry
posted @ 1:20 pm in [ - ]

Today we have a special report from inside DeVry corporate headquarters. Obviously, this is a source that needs protection, so I wanted to be absolutely sure he or she was okay with my posting about it, and the source would actively like me to do that. I want to preface this by saying that I think it’s an act of bravery for this person to come to me and want to tell his or her story. My personal opinion is that if DeVry were to retaliate against him or her, it would ironically just prove the source’s points, and truth is the ultimate defense. Not that I would wish DeVry’s villification upon anyone–it feels pretty crappy–but their best defense against having unpleasant things they’ve said repeated is not to say unpleasant things. As it is, people within the organization apparently feel compelled to speak out in defense of us all. I guess we shall see its real stances on free speech and thoughtcrime soon.

I am reprinting what the source told me in his or her own words, regarding what he or she observed as one of 400+ employees in the room at DeVry corporate’s annual meeting last Friday. I have only altered things I thought would point to the source’s identity. As always, I will not be interpreting the source’s account, or DeVry’s actions, or commenting about corporate spin or “story drift,” because I think it insults your intelligence. Figure out for yourself what you think about what is going on. It begins with this person’s rationale for coming forward.

It’s not amazing at all, Meg. I see it as people — not employees as such but PEOPLE — standing up for their rights against corporations that seek to stifle the populace. You could say that corporations have always been like this and I wouldn’t disagree (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, anyone?) but it strikes me that in the last 9 years or so things have slipped backwards. Further, it was only a few decades ago we had the “muckrakers.” Where have they gone? I don’t know, but in their absence seems notable to me. With those intrepid souls missing it seems to me that somebody has to stand up and be heard now and then.

The source discusses an experience where he or she lost a good friend over an argument about gay marriage, but comes to the conlcusion that, in the immortal words of Aaron Tippin, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

The more I thought about it, the more I came to the realization that in two years I haven’t changed that much and I have to stand or I’ll never be able to face myself again.

So… today, after 90 minutes of presentations given by Daniel Hamburger and Ron Taylor [the senior executives at DeVry's corporate offices], they had the Q&A just as expected. And when that time came, an employee stood up and asked a question, the only one to get up and walk to the microphones out of 400-odd people in the theater. Before he spoke, a question that was submitted via e-mail was read first, which was met with a canned answer from Daniel. Then the lone employee was invited to speak. “My question regards the issue you raised of Corporate Culture and the concern many have had about raising problems due to reprisals… A few months ago a professor was termianted at our Westminster campus. We’ve received some negative attention in the press and a lot in the online community because it seems we dismissed her for blogging. I realize we have to protect the brand and the shareholders, but does DeVry plan to remediate the damage from this incident and try to heal with the online community? Many companies have embraced employee web logging. Will DeVry support the blogging of staff, faculty or students about the university?”

What a song and dance he got for an answer!

First Hamburger took the initiative, telling him that, “We don’t speak publicly about disciplinary action, but we did NOT fire her for blogging. We fired her for a wholly different reason. DeVry encourages its staff and faculty to speak freely, but we did NOT fire her for blogging. We handled this at a local level, but we did not dismiss her for blogging.” Seems that they remember you, Meg. Given how fast Daniel started snapping off answers, I’d say he remembers you quite well. And still nobody knows why you were terminated. Except, apparently, Senior Management.

Taylor then stepped up by saying, “Let me add that there’s been a lot of negativity. We don’t need negativity, we don’t want it in this company. If you do something stupid there will be repercussions. Negativity results in negative results. Also, let me say that you shouldn’t believe all the hype. Not everything you read in the paper is true.” In one way the employee’s question had been answered, and in a whole other way they’d completely sidestepped it. You were focused on almost exclusively and villainized and never was an answer provided to the question of, “Will DeVry support staff and faculty who blog?” It gets better, but give me a minute to fill you in…

With my little clique I discussed this in hushed whispers as more e-mailed questions were read and canned answers provided. My three closest friends/coworkers all parsed this the same, so I feel comfortable in stating my opinions more as fact. The consensus of interpretation was, “No we did NOT can her for blogging… but we will can you if you blog about us in a negative light!” All three also noticed the sidestepping of the question if we planned to support blogging staff and students. So corporate speak wins the day again and I see that in all honesty, for all their bluff and bluster about wanting to change and “not blaming the messenger,” we’re toast if we dare say anything in a public forum that casts something they perceive as a “negative” light upon the company. Somehow it figures, doesn’t it?

Shortly afterward the canned Q&A was finished and the meeting was dismissed. The source, lingering for the free, higher-quality eventcoffee, overheard the conversation between the employee who asked the only question and Daniel. He engaged him in conversation, trying to draw an answer to his question out: will DeVry embrace blogging as Sun and MicroSoft have? He was treated to more demonization. He was told how it was a local issue and if he’d been there he would have dismissed you as well… how they’d communicated with the staff at Westminster “in depth” about the issue. I dunno what you’ve heard but I have heard of no such counselling or communication. He was further informed that staff and students are “monitoring” public fora and responding “when appropriate.” Despite Hamburger’s assurance that “sometimes there’s nothing to be done about it,” I was left with a distinct impression which was: BEWARE, CITIZEN, OR YOU WILL BE CONVICTED OF A THOUGHT CRIME AGAINST THE GLORIOUS CORPORATION. How very “1984.”

I didn’t expect miracles, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for just how slick this guy is. Even if the issue of your dismissal were ignored, every attempt to pin down the company’s position on blogging was met with a diversion. Sure, Taylor is old-school 1970s mainframe mentality but Hamburger is just as slick as you could want. It makes a certain sick sort of sense, since I know few people in their mid-thirties holding a Chief Operating Officer title. This guy didn’t get where he is today by being stupid. Taylor isn’t stupid either, he’s almost as cagey Daniel at times.

Mostly I’d like folks to know that not everyone inside the Corporate office is covered in slime, depraved and focused only on profit. I want people to know that there ARE employees at OBT who care. We care about the students, we care about good Netizenship, we care about the community as a whole and want the company to succeed without succumbing to evil. There are those of us who think some of these actions are total bunk but still want to see the company succeed while at the same time it is brought into a path of honesty.

As an aside for the readers of your blog who say, “DeVry is a corporation, they’d never act like this,” I have only the following message: Wake up. Look at the things that MCI-Worldcom did. Look at the things that Enron did. If you don’t think a corporate entity is capable of lying through its front teeth to you about any and everything, if you think ethics are commonplace in the commercial workplace you’re living in a fantasy world. This is real. This has happened. This will continue to happen if it is allowed to by the common worker. What’s even more sad is that DeVry doesn’t understand it is receiving fifty times the negative publicity from the circumstances surrounding Meg’s termination than it ever would have even if she HAD said derogatory things in her blog and been allowed to stay or had been disciplined.

Further, to the defenders of DeVry, your source says this:

This company is like many other modern corporations: the corporate culture is based on fear. Actions like the ones that were taken against Meg are necessary to maintain a “healthy” atmosphere of fear amongst the workers. Our management made a big to-do in their “State of DeVry” meeting about how a corporate culture based on fear and blame at NASA was responsible for the Columbia shuttle disaster and the loss of seven brave lives. They expounded on how we were so much better than that because we don’t have reprisals for raising issues inside our company. They say that to us with straight faces and then proceed to answer the question about Meg’s firing the way they did in front of 2 video cameras, a film crew and 400 plus corporate employees? The audacity displayed in making that comparison is staggering.

This company’s culture -is- based on fear. If an executive has a problem, everyone jumps to fix it no matter how disruptive it is to the rest of the business because they’re afraid. An administrative assistant to a senior manager has more power in this company than some of the executive staff themselves because NOBODY wants to be seen as a “blocker” of any work that comes down from echelon. A project manager just has to use the phrase “work stoppage” and whomever they finger as being in their way — regardless if the named individual is in the right (or not) for stopping them, regardless if that individual is even the reason for a “stoppage” — the whole team will jump because management will lean hard upon said staffer for preventing a project from moving forward. Recruiters at the campus and at DeVry Online are TERRIFIED for their jobs. Why? Because if they don’t make quota every month they’re terminated with no second chances! Miss your quota by one enrollee and you’re dismissed.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are spent on consultants so we can hire and fire “disposable” employees simply for the convenience of having an easy person to place blame on should some initiative or another go astray. When a consultant points out something negative with a configuration/approach/what have you with a project, they’re ignored and more consultants hired until we find somebody who smiles, nods and tells us what we want to hear. If you steal $10,000 in computer equipment from one of our campuses and are caught (this is all true) we’ll just take back whatever gear you haven’t sold on eBay and will not press charges on you, but if you dare say anything negative about our business practices you’re going to have — at best — an official reprimand on your HR file for the rest of your career with the company. Individual thought is not tolerated, those who find fault or highlight problems are to be frowned upon while “Boosters” who continuously spout the company propogranda are rewarded. When our interim CIO (Jim Ritchey of “Delta Initiative”) was put into his position he mentioned the name of a consulting company to one manager as a possibly source of auxillary help should our current situation prove untenable. Said manager immediately terminated a $750k/year contract and paid a penalty clause with the current vendor in order to bring the company named by the CIO into the shop. His reasoning? He didn’t want to be seen as “standing in the way of his vision.”

More examples abound. Case in point: OBT management had a program in 2002 to reward anybody who could recite, word for word, the company’s mission statement when chosen at random by a manager or senior executive. So 400+ people focused on memorizing ten sentences of buzzwords for FEAR of receiving a pop quiz by management. Meanwhile, all around us, OSS and the ISIS project in general CRASHED AND BURNED. People who pointed out issues with the initial pilot program of OSS were marginalized and dismissed summarily as not having “vision,” “not understanding that change is hard” or refusing to be “team players.” Management is terrified of letting employees work from home (except when said employee is on call and an emergency happens at 3 AM they have to work for five hours. At that point working from home is totally acceptable because it benefits the company — so long as the employee is in sharply on time for their regular schedule the next day) because if somebody isn’t at their desk displacing air then the Senior Management team doesn’t believe they’re working. The hell with their actual productivity, you have to be AT YOUR DESK to be a valuable member of this team. Ron Taylor is well known inside OBT for making unannounced tours of different floors in the tower at 4:50 in the afternoon to see who is and who is not still at their desk before the regular workday ends. People stay late specifically for that reason, because they don’t want to be perceived as “having left early” in case the CEO walks the floor.

If that’s not a culture based on fear, I don’t know what is.

Here’s a funny anecdote to help lighten the mood: I was talking to a couple of coworkers after the meeting about the one employee’s question, and one of my fellow disillusioned coworkers shook his head and sighed. “[Source],” he said, “That’s not even the real question. I have the real question, and maybe we should have asked it. We should just step up there and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen of senior management, I come asking only one question: When will the guilty be punished?’” Of course, if the answer the employee got to his inquiry was any indicator, the answer from Hamburger and Taylor would have been, “When we stop punishing the innocent.”

Yours from the trenches, Deep DeVry

Saturday, January 28th 2006

Who, me?
posted @ 2:04 pm in [ ]

I have to say that it’s become pretty weird to be me these days. It’s strange to be talked about more than you’re talked to, and it’s stranger still to have some people make judgments about you without even bothering to find out much about your story. I try not to let either thing get to me, because part of the deal when you go public is that you lose control over your story; and because it’s not my job to educate people who are apparently put out by the prospect of expending 2 calories to click a mouse and taking 30 seconds to follow a link and actually read something before spewing opinions about it. This too is free speech, and hey, if people don’t want to inform their own opinions, I can’t sweat the validity of those opinions too much.

Given that it’s a scary thing to give your story away to the public, because anything could happen to it, to say that I’m glad public responses have been so positive is something of an understatement. What I really wanted was to let people know what had happened to me so they could protect themselves from having it happen to them, and to start a public dialog about employee blogging so we as a society could start to hammer out some guidelines about it. However, as my story has spread, a few details about it have gotten sort of mangled along the way. I’m glad they’re just details, of course, but there are two major, telephone-esque, mostly-rumor-based misconceptions floating around out there about my experience being fired from DeVry, and I’d like to lay them to rest.

1. DeVry is a business, and they wouldn’t do anything like that. Yeah, I thought it was pretty odd, too. But there it is. I have no reason to report my story inaccurately. What would I possibly have to gain by exposing myself? My firing really did last moments, and was a mere three-clause sentence, no warning, no discussion, no policy I was aware of having been violated. It was really that weird, no kidding.

2. That I actually did say “disparaging” things about DeVry. It makes my ass tired to keep saying this, so last time: First of all, it doesn’t matter what I said, because whatever legal thing I do on my own time is nobody’s damn business. Second, if this is something you’re concerned about, go ahead and do a search for DeVry. I left all mentions public, so do see for yourself. If any of the tens of thousands of people who have looked this stuff up over the last several weeks have found something “disparaging” enough to fire someone over, nobody’s clued me in.

I’ve also learned that DeVry is continuing to actively villify me within the organization, and not just at the local level anymore, but at the corporate one, too. I can’t say it surprises me, but I still have friends there, as well as folks who are alarmed by my story. The nastiness and secrecy are, by some accounts, damaging to the morale of the organization (and perhaps ineffective, because the evidence is still getting back to me). Stay tuned–I have a pretty interesting report on that coming up. I’m just waiting for verification from a source.

Portals and KM suggests that companies really need to have blog policies, citing my experience as an example of why that is, and offers some good opinions. Thanks, Portals–this really is important stuff, and it’s just the kind of thing I was hoping would happen when I gave my story away. He notes, “Here is a blog by Meg Spohn who got fired from her job as an instructor at DeVry College in Colorado because of her blog, which was not being critical of the school.” Well, I sure didn’t think so. Can I quote you on that? Oh, I did. Thanks.

New West says, “Fired from her job as a professor at DeVry University, in Westminster, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Meg Spohn has become something of a free-speech hero among bloggers and academics.”

Thanks, New West. That’s really nice of you to say. Honestly, I never meant to be a hero. Rosa Parks was a hero. The folks who crashed their plane over Pennsylvania on 9/11 were heroes. Thurgood Marshall was a hero. I don’t count myself among them. I only meant to be an object lesson–at most, a lighthouse warning electronic ships off a particular jetty.

It is true that just because I happen to like poetry does not mean I’m more of a lover than a fighter. I don’t like contentiousness (I never liked McLaughlin Group because of all the shouting and interrupting), but when I pick a battle, I absolutely fight it to the end. Every time I start to think, though, that this thing is more or less over, DeVry does some other mean-spirited thing, adds another insult to the injury. Jesus, I think, they fired me. All I did was talk about it. It’s pretty simple: if you think you might be embarrassed by how you treated an employee if it ever got out, then for the luvva Mike, don’t treat them like that. It’s a little bit heartbreaking to me that I poured so much of my energy, and time, and love, into that place, completely oblivious to what contempt they had for me, what lies they were willing to tell about me, and how much they were willing to punish innocent bystanders in my name. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t know, because I never would have agreed to work for them, and then I wouldn’t have met the great people I did, or had some really great experiences.

The hell of it is, for as much energy as they’ve been spending assassinating my character, they don’t know a damn thing about what I’m really like. I was willing to just let this go. I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do (what with the awareness-raising and public dialog and all), and to me, my experience stopped being about DeVry when I decided that those were the important goals. Now it’s pretty clear to me, though, that DeVry is just not going to stop defaming me, retaliating against me or anyone who questions them, assassinating my character, and using me to try to frighten their remaining employees into submission. I am long gone, I’m not doing anything to them, I haven’t had any contact with them in weeks, it’s all them at this point, and they just cannot seem to let it go, or even honor their own confidentiality policy.

I have some stuff to work out. Pardon me for unloading some.

On the one hand, I am sick to death of my civil liberties being threatened and potentially extinguished on a daily basis, choked away by government garotte in the name of defeating a tactic. Fighting a war on terrorism, are we? Might as well fight a war on the nickel defense. We as human beings and as citizens deserve better, and if I have the opportunity to stand up and say that while people are listening, as however small a voice, I think it’s important to do that. (Don’t get the connection? See “Fear is the mind-killer,” below.) I’m no safer than I was a few years ago, and I’m a lot less free, and I’m pissed.

I have also had it with being blamed for the hasty actions of a small group of people in a company where I used to work, and being badmouthed by people there who haven’t even met me or bothered to find out what really happened (or who don’t care what really happened). I was, and continue to be, more kind and loyal to them than they ever were to me, and that just sucks out loud in nine keys. I also feel for my former colleagues, some of whom are afraid for their livelihoods. I’m not okay with that. Badmouthing is not leadership.

I also don’t like that my former refuge to peruse my own thoughts doesn’t feel like my own at the moment. Some days, blogging here is like renting a house I used to own. I still like it here, I just can’t put a nail wherever I want, or paint, or whatever. I’ve made a lot of new friends, which I’m unquestionably happy about. It’s just that I used to write for myself and a few friends, and now I write for a public unknown, lurky and watchful, and some friends. But hey, I chose to blog, the anonymity ship has long since sailed, and I like that people whose writing I enjoy can find me. I might never have “met” Professor Namewithheld, or Parts, or Joanna, or Donna, or the Phantom Professor, or Leigh, or dozens of others, or become aware of other terrific writers, if I were harder to find. And if someone lurky hates my stuff, eh, I’m pretty thick-skinned about things I really did write or do. If I pissed you off, I’ll own it. Still, I don’t quite feel like myself here like I used to when I could play with nobody watching. I feel inhibited, and as my real friends know, that’s not like me at all. I want to be silly if I feel like it, or swear if I want, or say whatever bitingly sarcastic thing I am actually thinking.

On the other hand, covering my own story is damned draining. I would really like to use the bulk of my mental energy finishing my dissertation and getting on with my life, to the extent that that is possible with a corporation continuing to talk smack on me long after I’m gone.

Friday, January 27th 2006

PDA I Ching
posted @ 11:15 am in [ - ]

Now, those of you who have in-person contact with me know that my PDA is kind of my handler. As previously mentioned elsewhere in this blog, the illusion of organization I project is created by a web of scatterbrain management techniques. It’s all smoke and mirrors (and less glamourously, writing crap down).

Many years ago, when I got my first PDA, I went poking around for games or other interesting things to put on it. The two extras that have endured on there are “Your Mom” and “Easy I Ching.” “Your Mom” is pretty much what it sounds like. You tap the screen, and it insults your mom. It’s an entertaining way to pass a little time when you’re waiting for someone, or just bored, and it’s strangely compelling. A lot of the insults are pretty funny. They range from old standards like, “Your mom tried to enter an ugly contest, but they said sorry, no professionals,” or, “Your mom’s so tall, she did a backflip and kicked Jesus in the mouth,” or, “Your mom is so fat, after sex she smokes a ham,” to the more insulting, “Your mom’s so nasty, when she gets in the bathtub, the EPA comes over,” or, “Your mom’s so slutty, I could’ve been your daddy, but the guy in line behind me had exact change,” to creative double-whammies like, “Your mom is so generous, she’d give you the hair off her back,” to sort of geeky or mathematical ones like, “Suppose your mom is skinny, then there exists a domain her ass fits in contradiction, hence she has a huge ass” or “Your mom has an extremely large angular momentum,” or, “Your mom is so large that, in theory, she can see the universe dying around her,” or “The derivative of your mom is strictly positive.” Something for everyone.

“Easy I Ching” is also what it sounds like. It’s an I Ching program. Any time you need a little oracle wisdom, there it is, right on the old PDA. And somehow, it really seems to work. Better than that, though, if you try to consult it without meditating about your question, it tells you to relax and meditate about it, and who among us couldn’t use some of that?

So once you’ve done that, it shows you your hexagrams and then interprets them, describing images. I know this all sounds very fancy, but I like to use it to ask really mundane questions. For example, on Tuesday, I was pretty tired and I couldn’t decide whether I should make an effort and go to tap class or just stay home. So I whipped out my pocket oracle, and asked the I Ching. Under the hexagrams, it gave some interesting judgments, images and advice, but this was the part I really liked.

ADVICE: Travel

There is a journey of some kind to make. By nature you are something of a wanderer, a nomad, so travel of any description does not unsettle you. If it is difficult for you to put down roots, and make long-term commitments, you can still live a successful life within such a form. We do not all have to be rooted in a community to learn about life. If you are a person who needs to move around, take your principles and abilities with you, and learn about the human condition as you go. Always show respect to those whom you meet on your journey; small acts of kindness will reap large rewards. Any form of travel at this time would be beneficial, so if you are considering a vacation, now is a good time to buy those tickets, and fly off to a sunny clime. The journey can be as enjoyable as arriving at the destination.

Yup, that’s me, all right. The next part suggested that perserverence furthers, too. So I went. It was a good class, and I was glad I went. Nice to have an electronic sage at the ready.

Thursday, January 26th 2006

More it is!
posted @ 5:19 pm in [ - - ]

So in response to some recent queries, how does all this hoo-ha apply to the societal scale? Well, a few years ago, I was talking to a fine fine superfine friend of mine (okay, it was Lisa) on the phone. She had just finished reading a cool book she wanted to tell me about: Richard Rhodes’ Why They Kill. Rhodes writes about Athens’ background and theories, and also applies them to some high-profile murder cases. (It is indeed a cool book, by the way, and a juicy read. Rhodes explains things well and is an accessible and captivating writer.) Two things struck me right away about that: One, I liked very much that Athens had decided to actually talk to criminals instead of doing the usual distanced philosophizing or engaging in some odd dichotomous argument that didn’t seem to be driving the field anywhere. I mean, criminologists shouldn’t be saying, “Ewww, criminals?! We don’t want to have any contact with them!” I identified with Athens’ sentiment: let’s not pick a side of a debate; let’s ditch all that and go find out for ourselves what we think might be going on. Two, after having studied nonlinear dynamics for a while, I thought that violence would almost certainly scale. Much as the tree is built of leaves, I thought a violent society could be built of violent people. So the short answer is, it was yet another idea I got from talking to Lisa.

Incidentally, another piece of this that was exciting to me was the opportunity to critique some of the ways in which International Relations theory handles solutions and ideas. Just as Athens’ field had been embroiled in a nature vs. nurture debate, mine has been known to drone on at length about agent vs. structure, but it’s the same annoying argument. Is the problem with the individual or the environment? Come on, is anything involving human behavior ever that clean? It made me cuckooputz, and I couldn’t wait to denounce it. That and “Levels of Analysis”–for the same reason. Eloquently and in a scholarly manner, of course. Harrumph.

After reading Athens and Rhodes, I was pretty convinced that Athens’ theory was sound and robust, so I started trying to think about how I could prove that whole societies could go through the process of violentization. Showing what kinds of characteristics we might see on the larger societal scale as evidence that the process was going on, and then showing them in context, seemed to be the best way to go. Right now, each of the pattern study chapters has a section for each of the stages where I show evidence of violentization. The only modification I made for the societal scale is that violent subjugation and personal horrification at the group level really are occurring simultaneously–there’s no singular individual point of reference–so I lump those together. Then I show some near misses, which is the best I could come up with in a qualitative study for proving that violentization was going on rather than something else.

So, for example, with the former Yugoslavia, I show how Slobodan Milosevic set violentization in motion for some citizens, and then as they completed the cycle, those folks violentized the rest of the society (violentization is definitely cyclical). Near misses included Romania, to dispel geographical and economic arguments, and Yugoslavia itself about 20 years before, during the “Croatian Spring.” There had been some unrest not unlike the early events that would unfold in the early 1990s, except nobody got killed. Tito gave the instigators a stern talking-to and fired some folks, and that was that. So much for the explanation of “ancient ethnic hatreds”–folks were actually getting along pretty well before Milosevic fired up violentization.

Make sense? This stuff has been hanging out in my head for so long, I can’t always tell if I’m leaving something out…

Wednesday, January 25th 2006

Linearity, schminearity
posted @ 5:51 pm in [ - - ]

I’ve been studying nonlinear dynamics for about a dozen or so years now, most of them as a solitary heretic. I had been curious about chaos theory and had some sense of what it was, but I started more earnestly trying to find out about it in the fall of 1993. Due to the insane stress I was under in my master’s program and my general lack of preparedness for it, this is one of my few memories of 1993. Most of that year is missing from my memory banks, like the 70s are missing from David Bowie’s.

I was reading James Gleick’s Chaos on the Green Line, and the difference between “order” and “equilibrium” had just kind of soaked in with me as the train began to lumber out of Park Street station. In that moment where I couldn’t tell if the train was moving backward or forward (I like that weird sensation), it occurred to me that the Cold War “order” had been a historical fluke, and that the just-post-Cold War “disorder” of the political world in the early 90s, of which we were struggling to make sense in my classes and in the emerging literature of the time, was more like the normal, natural, messy way of political history. Aha, I thought, this is the key to figuring it all out: a tool for thinking about difficult and complex patterns.

I also thought it was pretty chilling that two generations of American political scholars had been thinking only with Cold War minds. They had trained me thus far, too. My field was hosed–nobody knew how to think about the way the world really was–they could only think about this half-century fluke. In my opinion, a number of the field’s thinkers remain stuck all these years later. As I finished the book, I was pretty well convinced that chaos theory would be a useful tool for reconceptualizing the natural state of the political world. But I still wasn’t completely convinced it would work, or how I would know whether it did or not.

I thought about some of the key concepts of chaos: scaling and self-similarity. The leaf is like the frond, the frond is like the fern; for want of a nail… the battle was lost (and that whole protracted tale); history is cyclical, coastlines are self-similar, noise in data transmissions forms a scaling, fractal pattern… I wondered if other kinds of noise and clarity did that, too. I thought about soldiers’ battle accounts, where they would report hours or days of sheer boredom, punctuated with the terror of warfare. Maybe I could plot battle deaths over time series and see if that scaled.

At this time, I was doing a lot of conflict resolution. I was specifically interested in dispute resolution systems design, which is a fancy way of saying, “coming up with ways to get people to stop fighting.” (I wouldn’t figure out until a little bit later that I was a lot more interested in the beginning of conflict than in the end of it.) I liked the more analytical, mathematical studies: the game theory, the automated models of the Prisoner’s Dilemma and cooperation, systematic ways of trying to separate kernels of truth from the chaff of human behavior, math where my then-meager training didn’t matter and I could digest it by instinct and logic. I wasn’t sure how to test my idea yet, though, so I cautiously tried to find out if my professors had any guidance for me. Not only didn’t the ones I approached really know what I was talking about, they did not like it one bit and thought chaos was a crock.

So I took a pad of graph paper and a mechanical pencil, and for some reason, a compass and a protractor, into the bowels of Widener Library. The stacks are very old, retrofitted with electricity, and the scent of bookbinder’s glue permeates everything. You could go in there, and not see another living soul after the first few minutes, even if you stayed in there all day. The clanging, screeching elevator went down several floors into the earth, and parts of those floors were pitch dark until you could find, maybe at the end of a bookshelf or over-painted lattice of iron railing, a retro-fitted vintage lightswtich that would ignite a row of bare bulbs, linked by cloth-encased electrical wire. There was even a door to a passageway to another nearby library, should one be so pallidly geeky as to shun the light of day in favor of roving through this warren like a bookish bunny. If you opened the door, wind would blow through it. It wasn’t fresh air, of course–just the pressure relase of old-gluey air from one chamber to another–but it was spooky nonetheless.

I found a carrel near a collection of stodgy, leather-bound military history books, and started plotting points by hand. After many such trips, patterns began to emerge. The pattern of the Civil War looked a lot like the pattern of World War II. The 19th century looked a lot like both. So did 1864, and Bull Run, and Midway, and particular days of particular conflicts. It varied, of course, but the patterns of noise and quiet made maddeningly self-similar shapes. It gave me chills. I couldn’t look at it for a few days.

After convincing myself chaos worked, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. Everyone I knew either wouldn’t understand, or would be contemptuous of what I was doing, or I wasn’t confident enough yet to tell them. Because I would graduate in the spring and I now had some definite direction about what I wanted to work on, I started looking for doctoral programs that would let me explore the possibilities of nonlinear applications in trying to come up with conflict models that would work in the messy (pre- and) post-Cold War world. I played with a bunch of other models, mostly for my own entertainment.

Eventually, I ended up in my current program, and came up with the specific methods I wanted to use and what kinds of things I wanted to look at. I met a few folks at my current university who were doing chaos work, and that was a wonderful thing. It still took me over a year to find someone for my committee who both could and would supervise the wacky math part of the dissertation. The magical moment finally happened at a conference in Vienna, where I presented some of the below information at a poster session (the poster title was “Operationalizing Violence”), and the victim–I mean–extremely helpful now-committee member, volunteered to join my dissertation project as if he were thoughtfully volunteering to get me a cup of coffee. For the first time it occurred to me that I might actually be able to finish this frickin’ thing. I almost cried. I ran down the impressive stone halls of the University of Vienna and spun in the courtyard in front of dozens of busts of wicked dead white guys. He, and my other committee members, have been a great help–as it should be.

But enough background. Here’s the goods. Forgive the slightly formal language in some spots–I lifted some of this text directly from the diss. I suppose that means I should cite myself: Spohn, Are Violent Societies Formed the Same Way Dangerous Violent Criminals Are?: New Theory and Methods for a Dynamic World Order. Forthcoming.

Cusp Catastrophe

This method of analysis is appealing because it captures the behavioral motion of Athens’ model. Once one completes all four stages of violentization, rarely is any recovery possible. Cusp catastrophe describes a sort of descent into an unrecoverable state as well.

While there are several different kinds of cusp catastrophe of varying shapes and applications, the classic cusp model, essentially a potential well, is most suitable here. There are two stable states of behavior, requiring two control variables and their motion along or around one behavioral axis, the typical equation being y = x4+ux2+vx. One usually graphs it by taking measurements within the system before and after discrete events and plotting those, saddle-style. Athens’ model also offers clearly delineated events, and therefore logical measuring points. Additionally, cusp catastrophe is designed to describe the kind of all-or-nothing behavior that is also reflected in Athens’ model, and it’s testable as a set of static probability functions using nonlinear regression analysis. The coding, like the model, is done relative to stage, z at the origin, z+1 signifying stage 1, z+2 stage 2, and so on.

Tony Phillips gives a great illustration of this and explains it well on his SUNY website. “The simplest example of a catastrophe, mathematically speaking, occurs in the system consisting of a ball free to roll under gravity in a double-well container that can be tilted from one side to the other. Here the input is the tilt of the container, and the output is the position of the ball. … The catastrophe in this system is a one-parameter, or “co-dimension 1″ catastrophe: there is one controlling variable, namely the tilt of the well. Other mathematical catastrophes share an important feature of this system: the output is determined by a mechanism (in this case, gravity acting on the ball) that seeks the lowest possible position compatible with the constraint (in this case, staying in the well).”

The graphic representation of cusp catastrophe comes in a few different forms. It can be expressed as a “strange attractor,” a system that moves in a continuous loop within a defined space around one or more poles, but without making exactly the same loop twice. In this case, the irrecoverable state would be expressed as a loop initially traveling around two poles (violent and nonviolent), with the loop eventually settling around a single pole. It can also be expressed as a sort of 3-dimensional “descent into hell,” resembling a cascading mountainside with bumps along the way. This representation depicts a more direct motion between the two states.

If the graph of the coded information doesn’t resemble these shapes at all, we’ll suspect that the Athens model doesn’t actually follow cusp catastrophe behavior as expected. If it does, we’ll conclude that the model probably does behave that way. We will likely be able to gain some insight into the motion of the system by looking the patterns of the model. From the patterns generated, we may be able to determine things like where possible exit points in the process might be (they may, for example, show up as “weak spots” in the system—places where the graphic representations appear thinner or not quite in line with the rest of the pattern), as well as the “tipping point” or point of no return in the system (a feature that Athens’ model doesn’t quite nail down by itself). The patterns will also likely give us a sense of the overall motion of the process of violentization.

Langevin Equations & Fuzzy Logic

Langevin Equations are a classic differential equation set, that is, equations that are “solved” together using a computer program. Although Langevin Equations have been used in Chemistry and various kinds of stochastic analysis, their use in the social sciences to discuss social field interaction is much newer. They are particularly suitable for the discussion of the stability of a system state against fluctuations, and pointing up critical points and phase transitions, and they’re quite portable in combination with other kinds of systems.

Because this approach doesn’t have the kind of delineated points cusp catastrophe offers, and one really does need some specific numerical values to make the equations run, the process of violentization is coded in this module using an adaptation of fuzzy logic. Fuzzy logic is a method of describing some kinds of qualitative things in a quantitative way, based on set membership. The set membership in this case is that of dangerous violent criminal (or violent society), and the endpoints of the four phases of violentization are used as mile markers in the process, each representing a membership in another 25% of the set. For example, completion of Stage 1, Brutalization, would therefore put the subject at 0.25 membership in the set, while a 0.70 membership would indicate he was in the process of undergoing violent performances but had not yet successfully resolved whether or not to become a violent individual (or society).

Pairing Langevin Equations and fuzzy logic is an appealing approach because the subject matter of this project is about state changes and social feedback, and so are these equations. It’s also a different kind of approach than cusp catastrophe, and it should yield some interesting insights into the patterns of violentization. Finally, as a differential equation set, even one just coming into use in the social sciences, the end results may look somewhat familiar. The graphic outputs from differential equation sets are perhaps best expressed as fractals. Graphed over time, violentization expressed by Langevin equations should produce colorful embedded designs, the practical analyses of which will tell us more about the system of violentization: where the system breaks down, how it behaves, how likely it is to perpetuate itself through social feedback, and how strong that feedback is in different parts of the system. Rather than the motion of irrecoverable collapse, this approach focuses more on the analysis of the societal feedback between subject and society, subject and self, and society and itself, that perpetuates and creates each cycle of each stage of violentization.

If the graphical representations produced look smooth or linear rather than fractal and chaotic, or if there is simply a graphical mess with no pattern to it, we’ll know the model doesn’t fit. We expect to see a change of pattern from one stable state to another, with varying degrees of turbulence in between. We expect to find some amount of embeddedness of pattern expressing the social feedback we’re interested in. The insight we will certainly gain from this technique is quite literally the shape of social feedback within the larger system of violentization. To my knowledge, this will be the field’s very first look at that shape and behavior.

One possible concern about this approach, however, is that readers who are less swayed by quantitative methods may be put off by the complex look of the equations (indeed, complex enough that I couldn’t get them to display right here) and the perhaps unfamiliar nature of reading the resulting data. There are, however, other ways to analyze complex patterns, some of which appear quite friendly.

Agent Based Modeling

Agent-based modeling is often a good choice when one is interested in patterns of behavior rather than specific numerical analysis. It requires little coding and offers insights about emergent behavior (that is, complex behavior that organizes itself, such as flocks of geese or patterns of traffic) that might not initially be intuitive. It is essentially computer-simulated self-organizing behavior. One decides what the important aspects of the behavior itself are, how it should symbolically display itself (the green dots are commuting cars, the red lines are the two lanes of the road, etc.), and lets the computer generate possible patterns of how the behavior emerges and unfolds. As the pattern of the violentization dynamic is the essence of this project, agent-based modeling offers a certain purity of focus.

What’s attractive about agent-based modeling is that it directly addresses this study’s concerns: patterns of behavior and interactions of that behavior between the individual and societal scales. I expect it to yield some surprising insights. I’ve used agent-based modeling for other projects, and it almost always turns up something unexpected or counter-intuitive, but that makes a great deal of sense once you see it. For example, in Termites, Turtles and Traffic Jams (a terrific little book on self-organizing behavior), the author asks high school students to predict how traffic jams will behave and then model them to see if their predictions were right. One surprising finding was that traffic jams move backwards along the road instead of staying in the same spot. If you think about it, that makes sense: cars slow down as they come toward a traffic jam, causing the slow-down-and-stop motion of the jam to occur earlier and earlier along the continuum of the road. I expect some subtle explanatory surprises to jump out as the model develops, which is what good agent-based modeling creates well. Agent-based modeling is also enjoying quite a bit of positive recognition for its user-friendliness and growing widespread use: it was used to create a number of the realistic battle scenes in the recent Lord of the Rings films, and also aids geographers in analyzing weather and other earth-related emergent phenomena.

The agent-based modeling software will produce simple animated simulations that describe the motion of violentization. We’ll know it’s working if it produces some sort of interesting, sustained pattern of animation. If it doesn’t do that, it’s probably due to human error. The motion of the system will tell the story in this case, and may yield such insights as where violentization seems the most intense, or the most contagious.

Okay, fire away.

I close with a nod to Doctor Daisy, who gives me a nice compliment: “Her blog is quite appealing and she includes many posts reacting to her experience as well as round ups of who else is reacting to her experience. Lately though she’s been talking about her dissertation topic, football, and a startling UCLA issue.” Good musings overall, too. Worth stopping by. Thanks, doc!

Tuesday, January 24th 2006

Fish-eye free
posted @ 9:07 am in [ - - ]

I’ve gotten two kinds of questions about my recent posting about the diss. Some are curious about Athens’ model; and some are curious about the wacky math. Very well! Feast your mammalian eyeballs on this:

Athens’ Model

Lonnie Athens devised a four-stage model of how regular people become dangerous violent criminals. Not surprisingly, it includes an element of having been abused, but it’s more extensive than that. Below is the quickie version, but if you’re interested, I would recommend checking out his The Creation of Dangerous Violet Criminals. One caveat: it’s very graphic. Rather than participating in the largely academic and very protracted nature vs. nurture debate in his field, Athens instead interviewed hundreds of incarcerated dangerous violent criminals about their social experiences and looked for patterns. Excerpts from those interviews are reprinted in the book, and they include detailed descriptions of violent crimes from the criminals’ points of view. The book itself is very succinct (around 100 pages, maybe), and if you can deal with the descriptions, it’s a quick read. If that’s tough, it’s nicely broken up and can be digested in small pieces as well. The stages are:

  1. Brutalization, which has three substages: Violent Subjugation, whereby the subject is violently dominated by a primary member of his social group Personal Horrification, where he witnesses another member of his primary social group undergoing Violent Subjugation as well Violent Coaching, which is not quite what it sounds like–the subject doesn’t receive and technical assistance, just the glorification of violence and violent responses.

  2. Belligerency, which is a stage of deep introspection. The subject reflects on what has been happening to him and struggles to make sense of it. Belligerency ends with a violent resolution, that is, a choice to use violence under certain cirumstances.

  3. Violent Performances, which is exactly what it sounds like: a testing ground for the subject’s use of violence.

  4. Virulency, where the subject begins to believe his own hype; must change social groups because his old one now thinks he’s dangerous and crazy; and generally begins the cycle again by becoming the brutalizer.

Becoming a dangerous violent criminal is dependent on completing all four stages. One does not move on to a next stage before completing the previous one, although it is possible to exit the process. More? Let me know…

Next: wacky math.

Monday, January 23rd 2006

Shout out to PartsnPieces
posted @ 11:34 am in [ - - ]

PartsnPieces has a delightful posting about a weird dream the author had about a David Duchovny concert and breaking techie equipment. Check it out.

Ohmigosh, I too have had Duchovny-esque dreams. I confess, though, that they weren’t actually about the actor, but about the character Fox Mulder. What can I say? I like ‘em nerdy. Because PartsnPieces’ comments function hates me all the time, I say to you, Parts, (and to the rest of you): other than answering my questions about spirituality and dissolving my stomach lining, one of the key things that my master’s in world religion (essentially a degree in mythology and symbology) did for me was give me good background for dream interpretation. I hope you drop by and see this…

This is an anxiety dream about work and technology. You are not as secure with the whiz-bang of technology as you have time to be, although you are secure with those technologies that relate directly to what you do on a daily basis. Sometimes, you feel like everybody gets it but you, and that you’ll be labeled as hopelessly retro, with your boss spearheading the labeling, and that you’ll be singled out. You have a certain personal acceptance of your technological comfort/discomfort nonetheless, as exemplified by selecting cool retro objects with which to be exiled (like the Chevy), and the accepting nature of the people close to your heart (e.g., The Bundle being nearby).

What David Duchovny was doing in there is probably related to your own impressions of the actor. For example, if you think of him primarily as a performer whose heyday was with The X-Files for example, his presence and his “look” go with the retro-ness theme, exemplifying the era in which you perhaps felt most technologically comfortable and hip.

Does that sound about right?

Monday, January 23rd 2006

posted @ 10:47 am in [ - ]

My goodness, I’ve received so many bits of news over the weekend! We have here an update about the UCLA issue sent in by the ever-vigilant and righteously cantankerous author of Requiem Aeternam Deo (see blogroll, at right):

US university spying scandal prompts resignations Agencies Friday January 20, 2006

“A former US Republican congressman has resigned from the advisory board of a university alumni group after it emerged the latter was offering students money to police ‘liberal’ professors at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“James Rogan, who served two terms in office, sent an email on Wednesday to Andrew Jones, the head of the Bruin Alumni Association, saying he did not want his name connected to the group. Mr Rogan’s resignation follows those of the Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom and the UCLA professor emeritus Jascha Kessler, who both resigned from the board once they learned of the group’s activities.

“The group has been offering students up to US$100 (£57) to supply tape recordings and notes from classes to expose professors suspected of pushing liberal political views on their students. The targeted professors have likened the effort to a witchhunt.

“‘Any sober, concerned citizen would look at this and see right through it as a reactionary form of McCarthyism,’ said Peter McLaren, an education professor whom the association named as No 1 on its list of The Dirty Thirty: Ranking the Worst of the Worst.”

It is becoming more and more clear that those of us who value the university environment must vigilantly protect it, even if it means voting with one’s feet. It also seems that proprietary universities, such as DeVry, are under some scrutiny in general because of various kinds of abuses. Judging by the reports of some of my far-flung colleagues, such unregulated abuses seem a bit, well, rampant. New York is taking steps to curtail some of that–it will be interesting to see if other states follow suit.

A blog doesn’t need a clever name carries a link to a key article about New York’s impending regulation, sent to me by the ever-alert Lisa: “New York Moves to Limit Colleges That Seek Profit. The freeze on commercial colleges comes as officials nationwide look to tighten rules on this booming sector of higher education. By KAREN W. ARENSON. [NYT > Education].”

And saving the best for last: the brand-new and very entertaining Blood and Treasure now features a caricature of me in its blogroll. I think it’s a terribly flattering one, and I’m also in good company. Plus, it’s the first-ever caricature of me that does not make me look like a Tex Avery cartoon. I feel so… respectable. Thanks, B & T!

Saturday, January 21st 2006

posted @ 11:39 am in [ - - ]

I have a confession to make. I have been watching football. Okay, not just watching it, but liking it. A lot. In fact, the thought that the season is almost over makes me kinda sad. I might be a football “fan” at this point.

Why all this trepidation, you may ask? I have easily confessed elswhere on this very blog to having had unbidden erotic dreams about Harry Potter characters. What’s the big deal about watching a little football?

Well, gentle readers, football is a guilty pleasure for me on many different levels. For one thing, I did not have the kind of upbringing where football was valued. Rather, I had the kind of upbringing where I had a small Raggedy Andy doll named “Ethelred” (presumably after Ethelred the Unready, a favorite historical mental image to be sure–here comes the Viking fleet, and Ethelred has, like, one leg in his pants, saying, “Wait-wait! I’m not ready!”). For another thing, football is a giant capitalism-fest. The huge endorsements, the vast sums being spent on dorky graphics and bad hairpieces for annoying commentators who never SHUT UP, even when they have nothing to say… surely that dough could be better spent. Furthermore, many levels of football leading up to the professional one, from grammar school through college, sap precious resources from school programs that serve more students, and arguably the educational process in general. Imagine how much better off our school systems might be if as much money were spent on, say, academic scholarships or library resources as football. I know, I know, some football programs generate their own incomes–but many don’t, and often, focus is shifted from the glorification of intellectual performance and achievement to a testosterone-off. Finally, the role of women in football just sucks. There are at least a few female commentators now, and an owner or two, but everyone else associated with football who has ovaries is either there by virtue of attachement to a man, or is a cheerleader. To avoid a pro-cheerleader comment backlash, I will just say this: I don’t identify with any of the female characters in football.

So I have a lot of reasons not to like football, but I still like it. Hence the guilty pleasure angle. I had been mildly interested for a while, been to superbowl parties, occasionally followed a particular team, could talk football with the guys, but this year, I have been largely indiscriminate. Ironically, it happened because I’m writing a dissertation.

When I write a chapter, I usually go collect sources, then hang out with them at home, do some quote mining, write a bunch of stuff into the document, then edit it until it looks like a chapter. During the reading and quote mining portion, I am usually in a comfortable chair in the living room and not at the computer. I’m someone who likes a little background noise, though, so sometimes I’d have the TV on. It turns out that football is terrific background noise: consistent patter, not too distracting, goes on for a long time. It even alerts you when something really interesting happens, so you don’t miss the good stuff. I started by just having football on while I was reading because nothing else was on, but then I started to absorb things. At first, it was just funny words: Nickel defense. Nickelback. Touchback. In the pocket. Intentional grounding. Tailback. Then it was teams’ records. Six-and-oh. Four-and-two. Team X gained standing even though they lost this week because Team Y 600 miles away beat Team Z. Clearly, I was listening or something. When there was no Pats or Broncos game and I started having other favorite teams, and even favorite players on them, I knew I was in trouble.

I sheepishly confessed my growing obsession to my husband at one point, but he only encouraged it, and we started watching a lot of footbal together. I also tested the waters by telling another doctorally-engaged friend and colleague what I had been doing. She said that was how she had become a Broncos fan. I haven’t told my parents yet, but presumably they’ll see this at some point. Mom? Dad? I’ve been watching football…

So this weekend, the Broncos–whom I like when they’re playing well, and they certainly have been–are playing the Steelers for the AFC title. I’ve really enjoyed watching the Steelers this year, in large part because of The Bus. For those of you who haven’t been watching as many NFL games a week as you could find, you have GOT to tune in just to see The Bus do his thing. For one thing, the Steelers’ offensive line always seems a lot bigger than the other guys’ defensive line, and it looks funny when they face off. Watch #36 (Bettis) when the Steelers start to get close to the end zone. They’ll hand the ball off to him, and he’s surprisingly manuverable and light on his feet for a guy who outweighs an air-cooled Volkswagen engine. The best part is, though, that he’ll just keep going after four or five guys have tried to take him down and are still hanging on. He almost always gets a first down before somebody sacrifices his own body in a successful attempt to trip Bettis, and several times, I’ve seen him walk over the goal line with a bunch of dudes just hanging off him, getting dragged along with bits of turf stuck in their helmets. Plus, he’s an exuberant guy. Word is, this might be The Bus’ last year–he may retire (even though he’s younger than I am–oof!). So tune in and get an eyeful while you still can.

On the other hand, the Broncos are the home team and have pulled off a great season. I’m a bit torn.

Thanks–I feel better.

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