Porthole on the World

Well it was all of sixty-five years ago
When the world was the street where she lived
And a young man sailed on a ship in the sea
With a picture of Veronica

–Elvis Costello, “Veronica

I work in a tall building with banks of elevators. Have you ever noticed the folks who immediately try to get on an elevator when the doors open? You know, the ones that never stop to see if someone needs to get off – especially on the first floor? You may have even done it yourself, on rare occasion. I call this “elevator egoism” – the assumption that the elevator has arrived only to meet your need, and no one else’s needs.

We do this because our world tends to be so very narrow. It’s the same reason that many people can’t believe human-caused climate change. They think the world is big, and simply can’t imagine seven billion people in it. But in a way, it makes sense, Rarely are most people in a confined space filled with tens of thousands of others – sporting events, concerts, and certain political rallies are the general exceptions. I suspect when one considers that including the people that participate in only such event of any size, these people represent a a fraction of US population, and certainly the world population.

Further, when it comes to the world, with only a very few exceptions, any given individual is, on average, loved by zero people. (Yes, this is true. You can do the math yourself – unless as many 3.5 million people love you, or at least give a crap about you, the answer rounds down to zero.)  And of course, this works the other way. On average, any given individual cares about or loves, zero others.

We are all selfish and self-involved.

(Of course, I give myself a pass as I am honest that I don’t care about individuals, only large numbers of people. But even then, the answer is generally not much better than zero.)

I think this is part of the explanation for today’s politics. The world is not big enough to support all these damn self-involved people. The concept of sharing power and policy with people or groups of different value seems to be too foreign a concept for many people. Often I wonder if this is because their understanding of the world is so small.

So, my suggestion is this.

Since, on average, no one really loves or cares about any one of us, doesn’t make sense to make an effort for everyone to care about everyone else?

You know, we don’t have to like each other.

But we don’t actually have to dislike each other – or anyone for that matter.

I guess it is just easier.  So, let’s just keep doing the easy thing. That way we will all have friends in the Hell we create.

The Bialystock Taxonomy

From The Producers one of the greatest comedies ever made:

STEP ONE: We find the worst play ever written, a surefire flop.

STEP TWO: I raise a million bucks. Lots of little old ladies out there.

STEP THREE: You go back to work on the books, two of them – one for the government, one for us.

STEP FOUR: We open on Broadway. And before you can say

STEP FIVE, we *close* on Broadway!

STEP SIX: We take our million bucks and fly to *Rio!*


Now replace “play” with “Course management software” or your favorite edtech reform thingy.

Replace “open” with “Announce.”

Replace “Broadway” with “Chronicle of Higher Education.”

Congratulations! Your higher ed news story for 2016 is written.


(I’m sorry. It is just one of those things that had to be written.)

Meditations on Sunday

What if your Artificial Intelligence (AI) lied about its ability to pass the Turing Test?

The central story line of the 1997 novel “Donnerjack” by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold involves a religion developed by an AI in the Virtu (the virtual world) that spreads to Verite (the real world).  This is done as both a power grab by the gods of Virtu and as a practical joke. But reading this WaPo article and thinking of my personal experiences with conspiracy theorists and other assorted nutjobs got me wondering.

There’s a simple, economic explanation for this shift: If you’re a hoaxer, it’s more profitable. Since early 2014, a series of Internet entrepreneurs have realized that not much drives traffic as effectively as stories that vindicate and/or inflame the biases of their readers. Where many once wrote celebrity death hoaxes or “satires,” they now run entire, successful websites that do nothing but troll convenient minorities or exploit gross stereotypes. Paul Horner, the proprietor of Nbc.com.co and a string of other very profitable fake-news sites, once told me he specifically tries to invent stories that will provoke strong reactions in middle-aged conservatives. They share a lot on Facebook, he explained; they’re the ideal audience.

A few years ago I created a new persona that I used on blogs and Facebook in order to assure that I had an interesting foil to argue with. It was hard work, but it ended up being one of my favorite practical jokes. Certain people got drawn in and rushed to my defense when my alter ego would attack me. I laughed a lot.

We know that people are susceptible to bots and very limited AIs. The whole Ashley Madison hack demonstrates this as there were numerous articles about how the whole worked…perhaps still works. Angels, Chatterbots, whole new class of artificial personas.

So if you test your AI, and it fails on purpose, it lies? What then? Creating a personality on the net is not at all difficulty. The WaPo article demonstrates not only are there people that will believe any damn thing, they will intentionally only seek out materials to confirm those beliefs.

How do we know this hasn’t happened?

Is the education reformster movement substantively different than religion?

What else might be explained?



Festivus Grievances of 2015

  1. You never fed the bears and then complained when they indicated their desire to feed on you.
  2. You paid too little attention to what I wrote, not recognizing the coded language of the apocrypha and mistook it for frivolity.
  3. You made me feel like John the Revelator.
  4. You never appreciated the choreography of the dancing bears.
  5. I continue to be amazed at your lack of awareness.. well, of many things, but mainly of how you are manipulated by the media and politicos.
  6. You didn’t laugh when you should have.
  7. You didn’t laugh when you could have.
  8. I sat in the theater, waiting for Mockingjay 2 to start, and by the end of the final trailer I realized that none of the coming movies featured anyone but white people.
  9. None of the problems in golf and higher ed that people wrote about in the 1990s have been solved. This explains why we have a Bush, Clinton, and a billionaire running for president. We simply can’t make progress.
  10. Maybe it is time to let someone else try to fix things.
  11. After watching the original Star Wars trilogy, I was reminded of their overall suckiness and incomparability to the even-numbered Star Trek movies. Even ST:TMP was a better movie, but Star Wars did have a better story that could have been cut down.
  12. Speaking of cutting down. Let’s not let Peter Jackson make any more movies of beloved classics.
  13. College presidents should be careful about urging students to arm themselves as I’ve rarely met or read about a universally loved college president.
  14. Mobility companies, like Harmar and Rideaway, are abysmal. They promise mobility products that support living in your home, aging-in-place, but they don’t stand behind the products. And they don’t keep parts readily available.
  15. You failed in your understanding of the Old Testament.
  16. As much as I like learning how things are made, at some point I want a show about you determined the process for how a thing is made.
  17. I think you choose to be scared of others because it gives you identity and the illusion that someone cares enough about your existence to hate you. The fact is, a percentage of the population, no one really cares about you.
  18. Even if a hundred people love or hate you, that is a very small number (100/7,000,000,000), so small it might as well be zero.
  19. Speaking of numbers and “getting credit” for all your institution does, you continue fail to think about implications of such policy recommendations. Getting credit should never be a driver of policy development.
  20. You are argued that we can’t take Syrian refugees until we take care of Americans first and then you continued vote or voice your support for senators and representatives that vote against policies to support Americans. You’re a selfish idiot.
  21. You continue to show an inability to win gracefully.
  22. You may be a special snowflake but that makes you one of about seven billion. Whoopee. Snowflakes melt and become part of the collective.
  23. You report the news of parent outrage from rural communities without looking more broadly. Ask yourself if there might be a link between the event and the legislative representation.
  24. Conspiracy theories abound. And they are mostly stupid.
  25. You keep forgetting that you are little more than a self-aware moist robot. For many of you, this self-awareness is quite minimal.
  26. You don’t read enough.
  27. You don’t read enough to know the difference between good and information.
  28. Once again, just because it is new to you, doesn’t mean it is a new thing. Cross-handed or left-handed putting and looking at the hole and not the putter are not new things. They weren’t new 20 years ago either when it was “a new thing.”
  29. This. Translates into stupid is a stupid does.
  30. You continue to be inconsistent in your statements of belief. And then you vote.

Caregiving 101

I have more experience doing this wrong than most people will ever have, fortunately. So, I have some thoughts to share, especially while my wife is beginning post-op week number two following her second knee-replacement. These thoughts are written from the perspective of being a spousal caregiver of someone that has multiple health issue. I think many of these things are universal, as they correspond with my experience recovering from brain surgery.

  1. Accept that no matter you do, it is mostly going to be wrong at the time it is done because your patient is in pain and/or out of sorts.  Learn to let most criticisms go. Those that matter are those that cause or increase pain.
  2. Your patient knows more about what hurts than you do. Let them guide you.
  3. Sometimes you will cause pain and you don’t have any choice. Save your own tears for later and do what you have to.
  4. Keep your cell phone close, at all times.
  5. Bath time is scary. Have a plan. Bathrooms may well be the most dangerous rooms in the home, even those that are accessible like ours, with plenty of grab bars. Figure out what you are going to do and be prepared for any possible slip.
  6. Don’t help until you have been asked. When my wife brought me home from the hospital after two weeks in neuroscience ICU, I had to find it within me to to get up the three steps to the porch. This was a major challenge and accomplishment at that point. Too much help delays healing and interferes further with your patient’s sense of independence and agency. If your goal is to return your patient to independence, the more you do only what is needed, the quicker this will happen.
  7. Learn how to fall properly. If you have a patient with mobility and balance problems, your first responsibility will to keep them from falling. If they fall, you may well go with them. There are ways to fall and not to fall.
  8. Have a plan if a fall occurs. I can’t lift my wife and I am pretty big guy and am reasonably strong. But I can help her into a sitting position and help her move up into a chair or wheelchair with a series of small platforms or step-stools. I can also call 911.
  9. Know your own limits. Plenty of caregivers injure themselves, back injuries are not uncommon, from attempting to do much. This also applies to your medical knowledge, primary lack thereof.
  10. Make routine those things that can be. A schedule is helpful.
  11. There is a reason hospitals use little cups for pills. It makes it easier for the patient to take and for the caregiver to organize.
  12. If there are multiple prescriptions make sure you speak with your pharmacist about interactions – including if there are timing issues about when to take what.
  13. Be prepared for a whole new level of intimacy.
  14. Take care of yourself. Self-maintenance is a necessity to be an effective caregiver.
  15. Be safe. If you are sole caregiver, and sole support, you have a tremendous responsibility for your loved one. Don’t. Be. Stupid.
  16. Communicate clearly and often. Make sure your patient knows if you need to work, do self-care, or shop.
  17. Use respite care, friends, and family to help as they can, but realize that your 110 pound grandma or Aunt Grizelda can’t keep your 200 pound patient from falling…or help her up.
  18. Recognize that caregiving for an adult is a lot like being a single-parent to an unhappy toddler. You will have to use sleep time for self-care, including bathing or just a cup of coffee without disturbance.
  19. Sleep when you can.
  20. It’s not easy, it is just love.


A lullaby

Sleep, baby, sleep, in peace may you slumber,
No danger lurks, your sleep to encumber,
We’ve got the missiles, peace to determine,
And one of the fingers on the button may be Donald’s.

Why shouldn’t they have nuclear warheads?
Jeb; says no, but he’s really a sorehead.
I say a bygone should be a bygone,
Let’s make peace the way we did in Stanleyville and Saigon.

Once all the Senators were warlike and mean,
But that couldn’t happen again.
They’ve all been elected over and over again,
Marco and Ted have hardly bothered us since then.

So, sleep well, my darling, the sandman can linger
We know our buddies won’t give us the finger
Heil – hail – the Grand ol’ Party
Hail to our loyal ally!
Will scare ISIS.
I hope they’re half as scared as I!

Apologies: Tom Lehrer – Mlf Lullaby Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Search for Easy

Why golf, fishing, and a certain demographic group explain today’s political theater.

After returning to playing golf and paying attention to golf for the first time in decade, I notice things really haven’t changed. Manufacturers are still creating products and advertising to promise longer and straighter shots, or easier putts and chips, cutting a stroke off each hole.

A lot of this is snake oil. Some of it is improvement in technology. Some is a combination of both. In 1999, in his “Short Game Bible,” Dave Pelz writes about how golf irons have changed, had their lofts strengthened, over time  so that a modern seven iron should hit a ball further with the same swing speed than a seven iron of 30 or 50 years ago. Balls have also changed and go further than ever before. In other words, players hit a juiced ball with a club labeled one thing but actually built like something else and they feel like they have gotten better or been given a gift. In reality, their swings still suck but they don’t realize it.

In the end though, to play golf well, it still comes down to the hard work of learning, regular practice, and a certain amount of mental/emotional discipline. Of course, one can enjoy the game without playing well, that is a well-known truism. It is certainly more fun the further one walks between shots before you get to the green.

When I was young, an uncle (and others) taught me that fishing lures were designed to fool fishermen, not fish. This is especially true with bass fishing (largemouth bass).  From the early days of Bass Pro when I found their bags of product in liquor stores in Joplin and the surrounds, long before the building of the mother store in Springfield, and even long before that, fishing lures have existed to feed a need to catch a fish. A fish with a very large mouth that will eat anything from tiny red wrigglers (worms) to the occasional baby duck, begging the question – what won’t a bass strike?

Something strikes me as wrong that we have an industry where folks happily pay $5 to $10 for a piece of plastic to lob at a place where a fish might be. And said piece of plastic tied to a piece of plastic filament that will eventually break, fish or no. Yes, I love the thrill of a fish breaking the water and taking off with a crankbait or plastic worm, but I am kind of cheap. Cheap enough that I still stick to the things that worked for me 20, 30, 40 years ago.

The fun is in the challenge. I rarely care too much if I catch nothing more than an occasional show of interest.

Golf and bass fishing have this one thing in common. They are both supported by an industry allegedly dedicated to to making things easier for you. You will take fewer strokes, get closer to the hole, make more putts, catch more fish, catch bigger fish, get bigger erections (sorry, those are the ads mixed in with these others). They also have their own channels for dedicated advertising of these things.

Of course, it is all just paraphernalia for lost and desperate souls.

Success from hard work, dedication, learning, and practice. Rarely from just new and expensive toys.

This is what candidates for the 2016 presidential race are playing to. The overwhelming desire for easy answers. The desire to skip the hard work, the sustained effort, learning, and practice.

So these candidates are really nothing more than paraphernalia for lost and desperate souls.

As for the demographic group at the center of this…do I really have to tell you what it is? (listen to the end of the song if you are not sure)




Ignorance, enough to fill a crowd

CROWD: A muslim! A muslim! A muslim! We’ve got a muslim! A muslim!
VILLAGER #1: We have found a muslim, might we burn her?
CROWD: Burn her! Burn!
BEDEMIR: How do you know she is a muslim?
VILLAGER #2: She looks like one.
BEDEMIR: Bring her forward.
muslim: I’m not a muslim. I’m not a muslim.
BEDEMIR: But you are dressed as one.
muslim: They dressed me up like this.
CROWD: No, we didn’t… no.
muslim: And this isn’t my nose, it’s a false one.
VILLAGER #1: Well, we did do the nose.
BEDEMIR: The nose?
VILLAGER #1: And the hat — but she is a muslim!
CROWD: Burn her! muslim! muslim! Burn her!
BEDEMIR: Did you dress her up like this?
CROWD: No, no… no … yes. Yes, yes, a bit, a bit.
VILLAGER #1: She has got a wart.
BEDEMIR: What makes you think she is a muslim?
VILLAGER #3: Well, she turned me into a newt.
BEDEMIR: A newt?
VILLAGER #3: I got better.
VILLAGER #2: Burn her anyway!
CROWD: Burn! Burn her!
BEDEMIR: Quiet, quiet. Quiet! There are ways of telling whether
she is a muslim.
CROWD: Are there? What are they?
BEDEMIR: Tell me, what do you do with muslimes?
VILLAGER #2: Burn!
CROWD: Burn, burn them up!
BEDEMIR: And what do you burn apart from muslimes?
VILLAGER #1: More muslimes!
VILLAGER #2: Wood!
BEDEMIR: So, why do muslimes burn?
VILLAGER #3: B–… ’cause they’re made of wood…?
CROWD: Oh yeah, yeah…
BEDEMIR: So, how do we tell whether she is made of wood?
VILLAGER #1: Build a bridge out of her.
BEDEMIR: Aah, but can you not also build bridges out of stone?
VILLAGER #2: Oh, yeah.
BEDEMIR: Does wood sink in water?
VILLAGER #1: No, no.
VILLAGER #2: It floats! It floats!
VILLAGER #1: Throw her into the pond!
CROWD: The pond!
BEDEMIR: What also floats in water?
VILLAGER #1: Bread!
VILLAGER #2: Apples!
VILLAGER #3: Very small rocks!
VILLAGER #1: Cider!
VILLAGER #2: Great gravy!
VILLAGER #1: Cherries!
VILLAGER #3: Churches — churches!
VILLAGER #2: Lead — lead!
ARTHUR: A duck.
CROWD: Oooh.
BEDEMIR: Exactly! So, logically…,
VILLAGER #1: If… she.. weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood.
BEDEMIR: And therefore–?
VILLAGER #1: A muslim!
CROWD: A muslim!
BEDEMIR: We shall use my larger scales!
BEDEMIR: Right, remove the supports!
CROWD: A muslim! A muslim!

…and in other news

Sometimes I can’t resist. When I heard of the leading GOP candidate’s plan for blocking all Muslims from entering the US, it reminded me of three things.

First, following 9/11 there were a lot of questions about citizenship status on college applications. These conversations have later returned following the requests of the dreamers. It always came to down to what was asked…and what the options for response are.

Second, this:

Crucifixion Supervisor: Next! Crucifixion?
Prisoner I: Yes.
Crucifixion Supervisor: Good. Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each. Next! Crucifixion?
Prisoner II: Yes.
Crucifixion Supervisor: Good. Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each. Next! Crucifixion?
Wiseguy: Uh, no, freedom.
Jailor I: Uhm?
Crucifixion Supervisor: What?
Wiseguy: Uh, freedom for me. They said I hadn’t done anything. so I could go free and live on an island somewhere.
Crucifixion Supervisor: Oh, oh, that’s jolly good: Well, off you go, then.
Wiseguy: No, I’m only pulling your leg. It’s crucifixion really.
Crucifixion Supervisor: Oh, oh, I see, very good, very good.
Well, out of the door…
Wiseguy: Yeah, I know the way, out of the door, one cross each, line on the left.


The church I was raised in believes in full immersion baptism. After all,  if you hold someone’s head under water long enough, they will come up believing your way.

A New Beatitude

“Blessed are they who thirst and hunger, and go homeless, for education’s sake, for they shall be educators to all.”

Lots of people recommend not reading the comments to articles and blog posts, but Momma, that’s where the fun is. First, there is occasionally useful information that is directly related to the original piece of work. Second, it can be (painfully) amusing to see the displays of arrogant ly uncaring ignorance.

When people responding to the work of Sara Goldrick-Rab, Katharine Broton, and Daniel Eisenberg suggest that students who are home- or food-insecure should address those issues first before considering college, I wonder if such commenters have ever faced truly difficult decisions. Ever.

Sometimes life presents us with competing priorities. We have to address the needs of today, and plan for those of tomorrow. This might involve balancing on the knife’s edge of safety and security. An 18 year-old with no family structure to support them, with no occupational training may be able to find a full-time job, but $14,000 /year doesn’t go very far for housing, food, transportation, clothing, and everything else involved, despite what some colleges may claim are the estimated costs for living off-campus.

Have you ever spent time in the type of apartment one can rent for $700/month or less? I have, and each of the cases I have visited in recent years have been decidedly unpleasant.

Are you aware that not every place has public transportation?

And that available jobs and available affordable housing are often not within walking distance of each other?

And gee whiz, whatever happened to “Give a man a fish and eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” (Assuming he can afford a  fishing license and the there are adequate conservation safeguards in place to maintain a fishery.)

Life is hard and the world has moved on from where it was a generation ago. It is simply not right to suggest that all college students are hungry and that is part of the tradition of college. Especially if state and federal policy makers, and national voices keep encouraging more people to go to college. We need to support people to be successful, especially if their success is tied to our goals and our economic success.

Seriously people, have a heart.