Thursday’s Required Reading

1. 12 year old grandmaster. 

2. Ultra cycling’s underdog has no patience for haters. 

3. On infrastructure. Why does it cost so much to build things in America? 

4. The power dynamic between humans and Yosemite National Park.

5. On ‘small travel’. Making discovery, not distance, travel’s point.

 

Call Me ‘Ron’ Addendum

I like and respect my students, but we cannot be friends. I need to enforce rules, hold them to deadlines, and give them grades. If your friend Steve gave you a D you’d be angry, but if Prof. Lake gave you a D then he’s just doing his job.

The title is needed also to keep a degree of formality in our relationship. This is as much for me as for them. I need to do what is best for them, which is not necessarily what they would want. Thinking of them as peers would leads to a temptation not to challenge them, to be the ‘cool’ teacher instead of the good one.

I also suspect it helps in other ways to maintain this formality. I have only heard of a couple of cases of professors behaving inappropriately with students, but in both cases they were the kind of professors who went by first names.

Besides, I am not at all convinced that the seemingly egalitarian idea of first names is actually egalitarian. Formality makes it easier for those unfamiliar with a culture to navigate it. Being informal just hides the rules and may actually make it harder for those from disadvantaged groups to understand what is expected of them.

My students can call me Steve when they graduate.”

Comment 2. “One thing I’ll add to this excellent post: I am slightly autistic, and one of the ways that manifests in me is that I find rules of social behavior unintuitive. If you put me in a highly egalitarian spontaneous order situation, I don’t really know how to act or how to talk to people. What I need are clearly defined social rules, scripts if you will. Formal, hierarchical relationships like teacher-student or colonel-major make me comfortable because there is a clear script for me to follow.”

Comment 3. “I always ask my students to call me David, but Steven makes a good point that I hadn’t previous considered that formality is easier to navigate – especially given the international nature of the student body.

Nonetheless, I have always found that colleagues that insist on being called Professor or Doctor (or use the titles on Twitter) are almost always insufferable in person.”

Just Call Me ‘Ron’

Stop Calling Professors ‘Professor’. Nicely argued.

I’ve always asked my students to call me Ron. Partly because my first college teaching gig was at a Quaker institution which tried to be egalitarian. Mostly though because I’m wired to be informal. 

Some students are down with it from the get-go, for others it takes getting used to. They’re almost disappointed, as if they want me to be a know-it-all. It doesn’t take me long to disabuse them of that notion.

One of my first high school students in Los Angeles called me a “tough, young buck from UCLA”. That was cool, but don’t use any of my nicknames like Slip or HD (Heavy Duty), that’s a bridge too far. Oh, except one nickname is fine, Birdie*. You can use that one whenever you’d like. 

*Compliments of Lou Matz in high school. Sigh, these days on Western Washington links, I’m known as Bogey Byrnes. 

What I’m Watching

Not counting the just completed Open Championship and the Tour de France, overlapping highlights of the sporting calendar that seriously taxed my DVR and remote control skills.

I’m deep into Shtisel on Netflix. I may as well be living in Jerusalem. The three season series was a huge hit among American Jews, but this gentile digs it too.

Tonight I watched Season 1, Episode 11 which is my favorite so far. The series beautifully depicts the costs and benefits of strict religious community. And also, the costs and benefits of extremely close families.

The slower pacing, the incredible background music, the covert sexuality all make for an incredibly unique and rewarding experience.

Unless you’re hopelessly modern, book your flight for Jerusalem soon, you won’t be disappointed.

Cornel West’s Resignation Letter

Given a resurgent ‘rona, the rise in extreme weather-related deaths, the intransigence of global poverty, and the related and desperate plight of Haitians and Cubans, why am I writing about Cornel West’s resignation letter?

Because it’s relatively small and oh so familiar. And because one doesn’t have to have taught at Harvard to have a feel for self-important academics. 

West has succeeded in drawing attention to his anger at Harvard for denying him tenure, but I haven’t seen anyone call attention to the oddest of personal details he injects near the end of his letter. 

“When the announcement of the death of my Beloved Mother appeared in the regular newsletter, I received two public replies. . . .”

As a check on me taking this one sentence too much out of context, skim the whole letter, it’s not long.

Two oddities:

  1. As a result of sharing his letter with the national press, West is communicating his belief that his tenure case deserves a national audience.
  2. West kept count of how many people did and didn’t express sympathies after his mother died. For West, the professional and the personal are one in the same. 

Given his obvious ego, West had to be a challenging colleague. Maybe if he was more selfless and didn’t conflate the professional and the personal so much, he still wouldn’t have been granted tenure. Maybe black scholars are unfairly held to higher expectations at Harvard. Maybe we owe West thanks for illuminating the structural racism embedded in the most prestigious educational institution in the country. 

Or maybe he failed to get along with enough people and we shouldn’t extrapolate from his case at all.

Postscript

 

A Hard Pass On Psychedelics

Ever pressed pause and asked yourself why LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs are trending?

Here are some explanations from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs have been used for a variety of reasons (Bogenschutz, 2012; Bonson, 2001). Historically, hallucinogenic plants have been used for religious rituals to induce states of detachment from reality and precipitate ‘visions’ thought to provide mystical insight or enable contact with a spirit world or ‘higher power.’ More recently, people report using hallucinogenic drugs for more social or recreational purposes, including to have fun, help them deal with stress, or enable them to enter into what they perceive as a more enlightened sense of thinking or being. Hallucinogens have also been investigated as therapeutic agents to treat diseases associated with perceptual distortions, such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dementia. Anecdotal reports and small studies have suggested that ayahuasca may be a potential treatment for substance use disorders and other mental health issues, but no large-scale research has verified its efficacy (Barbosa, 2012).”

Apart from the potential to help with substance abuse disorders and other mental health issues, I don’t find any of the other rationales convincing. Their appeal seems to speak to people’s discontentment with having more of their needs met than any other people at any other time in world history. 

Maybe this is just another case of Okay Boomerism, but I never wake up wishing for more mystical insight. More Sea Salt Caramel gelato in the freezer yes (or dark Raspberry Chocolate), but not a more enlightened sense of thinking or being. I’ll be sitting this one out because I’m content with my current anemic level of insight, thinking, and being. 

Clean Machine

I have no idea why I sporadically have to clean everything. Instead of picking away at things like a normal person, I tend to go whole hog. Just don’t get in my way when the tidying up spirit overtakes me.

Case in point, this morning I vacuumed the whole house at 6:30a.m. Sure, that coulda been on account of me delaying the morning run, but when I returned from my appointed rounds, I washed the car and then the road bike. Thoroughly.

In hindsight, yesterday’s bathroom top-to-bottoms foreshadowed today’s manic cleaning.

Everything can now get dirty.  The cleaning spirit departeth as mysteriously as it arriveth.

The ‘Can’t Miss’ Investment I Missed

Dammit. I wish someone had pulled me aside at a dinner party when I was in my early 20’s.

And told me the two words that could’ve changed my life. Self-storage. Apart from AAPL, I double dog dare you to find a better investment.

From this week’s Wall Street Journal:

“Self-storage pulled ahead of other property types in the reopening trade as the real-estate business rebounded this year during the easing of pandemic restrictions.

The storage facilities around the country have brought the biggest returns to investors in public real-estate stocks this year. Many people moved, and for those who stayed put, a desire to have more space in their homes because of remote learning and working also spurred demand for self-storage.

As of June 30, total returns from self-storage real-estate investment trusts reached 36%. . . . Over the same period, the FTSE Nareit Equity REITs Index gained 22% and the S&P 500 climbed 15%.

People generally haven’t been able to tame their consumerism, increasing the need for storage space. The self-storage industry sees demand when people’s lives are disrupted, such as relocating for a new job, marriage, divorce and education.

‘Self-storage thrives when people experience change, and Covid disrupted norms across all generations,’ said Drew Dolan, principal at DXD Capital, a self-storage developer and investor. He added that many customers who needed self-storage in 2020 were first-time customers.

Operators moved quickly during the pandemic to offer customers more choices for reservation and move-ins, including online rental agreements and kiosks that limited contact with other people.

‘What used to be a 45-minute transaction can now be a six-minute experience,’ said Natalia N. Johnson, chief administrative officer of Public Storage, in a recent presentation to investors.” 

“People haven’t been able to tame their consumerism.” My vote for understatement of the year, decade, century. I should’ve bet big on American consumers not taming their consumerism years ago. I coulda, shoulda made bank on your neighbors’ conspicuous consumption.

No it’s not too late, but the crazy recent gains have to moderate, don’t they?

‘Not Paying Taxes Makes Me Smart’

I received a letter from my uni’s CFO—Creative Financial Officer—who earned his degree from Trump University. He said there was good and bad news.

The bad news. . . I’m not going to be paid my normal salary anymore. The good news . . . the university is going to provide me with a car, a Parkland pied de terre, and some petty cash for weekly dining at Marzanos.

If You’re Not Looking Forward To It, You’re Doing it Wrong

I enjoy watching Lionel Sanders triathlon training videos on YouTube. I dig his honesty and no-nonsense competitiveness. He said something in a recent one that was particularly insightful. Tying his shoes before a track workout, he said, “If you’re not looking forward to it (meaning workouts generally), you’re doing it wrong.”

Great advice for any walker, hiker, tennis player, yoga aficionado, swimmer, cyclist, runner. Whether you’re looking forward to your activity is a great litmus test of whether you’re overtrained or just going through the motions out of habit. What would it be like to be fully present and genuinely appreciative each time you lace em’ up?

Last night, before expiring, my final thought was, “I’m fortunate I get to swim tomorrow morning.”

This Tuesday afternoon I found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with Brett near the very end of the “Mostly Retired Lunch Hour” ride. Brett is the Presiding Judge at our County’s Courthouse and one of two regulars on the ride still working full-time (I’m half-time). In his mid-60’s, I asked him if he has an “end-date” in mind. He said he’s up for re-election in a year and a half and he’ll have another four-year term. Groovy confidence, but what I most digged was how much he enjoys his work. I told him it was really refreshing to hear since it seems to me that 8 to 9 out of every 10 of my peers are counting down the days until they can stop working.

Brett talked about the Court’s ‘rona inspired virtual proceedings and how engaging the associated intellectual challenges were. And about how much he enjoys working with young attorneys and other people. And about how no one will give a damn about what he thinks as soon as he unplugs. Irrespective of his age and all his peers exiting the stage, he looks forward to what the next several years of work will bring.

He also acknowledged that “we live in a beautiful spot” and that he can enjoy playing outdoors when not working. Because of that, he said he doesn’t feel compelled to move anywhere.

As we approached his Courthouse’s start and end point, he said to me, “It was great riding with you again Professor. It was nice to have a little infusion of intellect.” I think he emphasized little, but still, I’m concerned his judgement may be lacking.