Category Archives: Culture

Why Teaching is Cool


One of the cool things about teaching is the revisiting. We’ve had a few of these this week. You know who you are. But we also have those who revisit in different ways. Jason Davis was a massive person. A lamp. A voice. A speaker. He attended many of my courses and became a friend. Graduated Trinity College, Hartford.

Sadly, he has passed.

I was looking forward to reconnecting.

Swift passage to you.

Prepping for Extremes

At the moment, the temp outside is about 5 degrees f. Last week we had our new generator started by the good tech, with his lap top and advise for self-tests. At initial test, the power went out and the generator came on a few seconds later and repowered the house. The machine continually assesses the Grid and will respond accordingly. Smooth and simple. Currently, it’s running off temporary propane while we wait for conversion to natural gas. Our addition is pricey so we figured a generator should be a part of the bargain. This equipment is watted enough to deal with the entire house, plus the addition, and should go smoothly if properly maintained. But we don’t have to worry about gasoline power and the dedicated gas will provide for future simplicity.

But it’s super cold. It would also be nice if we never had to use the generator. But it’s there; it’s big; it’s something around which to do more landscaping. It’s also amazing to think that such an expensive appliance might actually never be used. Given the changing state of the weather, this seems unlikely.

Inaugural Post: 2013

I’ve been away from this weblog for a time, thinking, changing course, working through. A new novel’s coming. A new year, with lots of exploring. New reference points. Those to thank, you know who you are. In any event, I’ve been reading lots of local, Simsbury history. Prepping for courses, with a mindfulness for ecology.

Vibert’s book has renewed my interest in the kinds of history and storytelling that makes better sense than general overviews. The day to day experience, for example, of people just after the initial push-out from Windsor Connecticut into the pine territories of northern Connecticut for tar and pitch to serve the naval concerns of England is a robust knowledge and wisdom. I’d love more mining into this subject. The social network is not new.

Big Ideas, Bold Ideas, or just Ideas

In politics it’s a possible thing to adjust the definitions of words to convince other people, to hide actions, or to create desired or undesired images. We’ve heard over the last few years, for example, characterizations for some ideas as big and bold when better usage would be the less flavorful but more precise term: “ideas.”

Ideas are, as they say, while adjectives serve to create images or portraits of them. Hoover Dam was a part of a “big idea,” when in reality, the work was big, perhaps even bigger than the dam, and the plan to manage flooding, irrigation, power and so forth was large scale.

I don’t disagree with the word bold to characterize an idea, but appropriateness does matter. We know what’s intended. Perhaps many novels and poems are composed with big ideas in mind. I reach for them myself. To transform the way America makes power wholly from renewables is a big project but it’s not a big or bold idea. One hundred years ago it would have been a crazy idea or fantastic, like Cyrano de Bergerac’s writings about the moon.

If a scientist claimed that the universe was made out of jello, some would say this was a bold notion. If it was shown that, indeed, the universe was made of jello, then we could accurately claim that this was the truth as opposed to being false.

I’d rather go with good idea/bad idea.

On Film, Flying and Cynicism

Just a few weeks ago, my wife, son, and daughter went to what my father would always refer to as “the show.” I still remember seeing Godzilla at the drive in. Sometimes in the theater dark I imagine what would happen if . . .

It was only recently that my daughter took my son to see the big opening for the last Harry Potter film in Ithaca, NY, while my wife and I remained behind, reasonably confident that everything would go fine, and it did.

People love going to “the show.” They pay for the pop corn, the drinks, and ease their way into a chair. Some people, like me, want to sit through the opening anticipatories and then also the ending credits, waiting for clues to the future and the often art outside the principle narrative.

I can’t imagine the horror and sorrow of friends and family who had all that dashed in Aurora. My heart sinks and sends condolences.

It only takes one person to ruin it all. Invading armies are not required. Neither is a dictator. This doesn’t mean that we should put up with a culture that makes such acts easier than harder. It’s cynicism to simply persist on the present course. As Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “…for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.”

Perhaps, soon, going to the movies will be like flying.

Why New Media IPOs Bug Me

When Facebook went through its IPO, I couldn’t quite pin down what bothered me about it. I’m a semi-Facebook user. I dabble in Google+. I use and enjoy small company software for my professional work, like Tinderbox. I pay for as many things as I’m able on my professor’s salary. In my quiet time, I think Facebook should charge a subscription for various levels of use, like a buck a month, so that people have a stake in the features they like or depend on. I ask my students if they would pay and they say they wouldn’t. But then I compare the $1 a month cost to their cell phone charges. Most are on their parents plan, so they don’t even know how much they pay for services like cable. When I tell them, they typically shrug and half-heartedly change their minds or reconsider to the extend that they’re willing to forecast their future behaviors around things they don’t have a lot of control.

If we think about investment as a long term commitment, the IPO takes on a different cast. What did people buy long term for Facebook? What did the big money purchase? Will Facebook exist in ten years? Or will it go into hardware, sell a Facebook phone? Is this any different than, say, the next new thing in refrigerators or automobiles?

I have no idea. But I do worry about the long haul.

It would seem to me that Twitter also has this problem. A lot of people depend on the service and have an investment in its core features. Note how the tweet, however, is not really a tweet anymore but a load of interpretables. The core metaphor is changing. And RSS would seem to be wobbling. Don’t people have more control over or with RSS? Perhaps I’m wrong about that.

Simple things tend toward complexity. For me the nostalgia window is getting shorter.

It’s a good question

Shawn Fremstad asks

Why is OK to pay the mostly female workers who take care of other people’s children and of seniors and people with disabilities so little? (Average wages for workers in care occupations are less than half of average wages for workers overall: for child care workers, average annual wages are $21,320 compared with $45,230 for workers overall. And, it’s not just about education—nearly half of all child care workers have either some college or a college degree).

Would it have something to do with the price points of that care in relation to the cost of raising children in general? I remember paying for child care back in the nineties when both my wife and I both worked. And it was a lot of money, but, not nearly enough to raise the wages of care workers. But I really have no idea.

But I’m interested in simple questions: should things cost what they do, as in a $300 gallon of saltwater (typically used by people with allergies and sold in teeny spray bottles) or the price point of a course at Harvard.

Why Taxes Matter

A touching piece by Andrew Leonard at Salon on his experience with firefighters:

And so the bullshit battle rages! Far too often, we’re forgetting what our public servants do. All I can think about, right now, is that even while risking his or her life to beat back the flames, a Berkeley firefighter took time out to make my daughter smile.

That firefighter deserves a raise. Put it on my next ballot, please.

I’m with that.

And, by the way, the 100 Dayers are at full throttle. Their Facebook group is called 100 Days of Summer.

Styles of Bad Reporting: CBS and Weird Journalism

Last night we watched a report by CBS news on the ALEC organization. It’s called Who is ALEC? It’s a good example of how not to do a report on an organization that is objectively controversial and that has seen lots of reportage in other news organs, most of it critical, which is the real news.

The first mistake is that the report doesn’t even talk to ALEC. It interviews Chip Rogers, a Senator from Georgia, who’s obviously a supporter of the organization.

We sat down with Rogers this week for an interview on the floor of the Georgia State Senate, where he is Republican majority leader, to find out what ALEC is really about.

This is a title fumble and a bizarre decision by CBS. How would this logic go: Let’s find out who ALEC is, go to Chip Rogers, he’ll know. He’ll give us the “real skinny.” Pardon my snideness, but what were the editorial and production decisions here? If CBS wanted to know about ALEC, they could have gone to the web site and read the About page. Instead, the interview descended to classic propaganda. CBS could have included at least one critic for the purposes of counter point.

In any event, here’s an extract on the question of Who ALEC IS:

“They look at us and say, ‘Hey, here are the legislators that believe in free markets; here are the legislators that believe in limited government,'” Rogers said. “It really is a shame that companies have to continually look over their shoulders to protect themselves from an onerous government.”

ALEC member companies are a Who’s Who of the Fortune 500: tobacco giants Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris) and Reynolds American; telecommunications leaders AT&T and Verizon; energy conglomerates ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Koch Industries; big pharmaceutical firms Bayer and Pfizer; State Farm insurance and United Parcel Service. None of the companies on ALEC’s corporate board would grant us an interview.

What ALEC does for legislators is create model bills mostly on fiscal issues that are templates for 800 to 1,000 bills introduced in the 50 state legislatures every year. ALEC has claimed to members that 20 percent [of] its bills become laws.

All kinds of weird and news worthy conclusions can be drawn from this lift. The Senator: 1) thinks he’s “onerous.” 2) ALEC is his ghost writer 3) ALEC writes 20% of the law. Additionally, consider this quote:

But at least 20 companies cut ties with ALEC this year after it had drifted into non-economic issues such as “stand your ground” self-defense laws and strict photo voter identification laws.

The report never defines what it means by “drifted into” and fails to follow it’s own logic in this quote:

ALEC had no role implementing the stand your ground law in Florida, where teenager Trayvon Martin was allegedly shot by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who has asserted a “stand your ground” defense. But ALEC did create a similar model bill after Florida’s law.

The report makes no effort to explain the final sentence.

One final note. I think it’s perfectly fine for reporters to ask questions that test a person’s logical points. In this next quote, the interviewer makes no attempt to do this in an illogical response to a question about voter IDs.

“Simply telling the person who is taking your vote who you are is not much of a burden, and at the end of the day, if you’re allowing one person to vote illegally, you’ve just cancelled out my vote,” Rogers said. “It’s really common sense – if you are going to vote, tell us who you are.”

Voter ID was an issue that led Wal-Mart to quit ALEC, telling the group in a letter it had weighed in “on issues that stray from its core mission.” In a statement to CBS News, Wal-Mart mentioned its support of the Voting Rights Act and the company’s efforts to help employees register to vote.

Rogers addressed Wal-Mart’s concern head on: “If I were to go to Wal-Mart, and I were to attempt to buy a bottle a beer, I would assume that Wal-Mart would ask me for identification. If not, they could lose their license to sell that product. I would hope that most Americans cherish the right to vote a little more than they do the right to buy a bottle of beer. So, I think it is a little disingenuous on Wal-Mart’s part in that they’re actively engaged in indentifying people using photo ID to suggest that is a reason they no longer want to be actively engaged with ALEC.”

The Senator is jumping to the conclusion that a voter who has come to the precinct is an illegal voter. On what cause? Where’s the evidence? Voter ID’s aside, the reporter could have asked Senator Rogers why he thinks his analogy is sound, legally and functionally. Maybe everyone could “register to purchase alcohol.” Even I hadn’t thought of that.

CBS should do some serious thinking about editing. This is incompetent.

Older Storms and Thoughts on the Weather

Images streaming from mid-Atlantic states are pretty familiar to people in my “neck of the woods.” Drop a little snow, drop the degrees by about 70, and the images are virtually the same. Similar are the collective amounts of outages because we have yet to commit to innovating our systems. We were out of power for ten days here in October of 2011, and the community lit up with incredible communitarian efforts. I’m hearing stories of the neighbors coming together and the same sort of arguments about energy. At one point, virtually all of CT was out of power and Vermont turned into a land of mud. I sympathize and send my hopes for improvements and fixes.

Perhaps this and the coming storms will get us putting our heads together rather than banging them against brick walls.