Coffee Is For Closers Only

Most writers, like recreational runners hitting the wall, don’t pace themselves. As a result, they shortchange their readers with uninspiring conclusions.

Evan Osnos, in his lengthy New Yorker expose on Facebook provides us writing mortals with a tour de force example on how to close. Dig his last three pgraphs. So good, let’s take them one at a time beginning with the third to last:

“The caricature of Zuckerberg is that of an automaton with little regard for the human dimensions of his work. The truth is something else: he decided long ago that no historical change is painless. Like Augustus, he is at peace with his trade-offs. Between speech and truth, he chose speech. Between speed and perfection, he chose speed. Between scale and safety, he chose scale. His life thus far has convinced him that he can solve “problem after problem after problem,” no matter the howling from the public it may cause.”

He saves a key insight to the very end—conventional wisdom on Zuckerberg is wrong. Then the Augustus reference reminds the reader of Zuckerberg’s fascination with Roman history nicely explained in the body. Then the three brilliant “Between” sentences which beautifully summarize the three tensions that weave throughout the piece. Then Osnos uses a few of Zuckerberg’s own words to thoughtfully wrap the pgraph.

The penultimate one:

“At a certain point, the habits of mind that served Zuckerberg well on his ascent will start to work against him. To avoid further crises, he will have to embrace the fact that he’s now a protector of the peace, not a disrupter of it. Facebook’s colossal power of persuasion has delivered fortune but also peril. Like it or not, Zuckerberg is a gatekeeper. The era when Facebook could learn by doing, and fix the mistakes later, is over. The costs are too high, and idealism is not a defense against negligence.”

Again, a wonderful payoff for sticking with Osnos to the end, another astute insight about “habits of mind” and the difference between growing a new business and leading a mature one. Instead of a mechanical “tell them what you told them”, Osnos leaves the reader thinking even more deeply. Will Zuckerberg be able to make the pivot Osnos so convincingly argues he must? That question gives the piece a stickiness that a typical “let’s just end this” conclusion never does.

And the last:

“In some sense, the “Mark Zuckerberg production”—as he called Facebook in its early years—has only just begun. Zuckerberg is not yet thirty-five, and the ambition with which he built his empire could well be directed toward shoring up his company, his country, and his name. The question is not whether Zuckerberg has the power to fix Facebook but whether he has the will; whether he will kick people out of his office—with the gusto that he once mustered for the pivot to mobile—if they don’t bring him ideas for preventing violence in Myanmar, or protecting privacy, or mitigating the toxicity of social media. He succeeded, long ago, in making Facebook great. The challenge before him now is to make it good.”

Whew, where to start? A vivid reminder that Zuckerberg and Facebook are in their very early years. Anything is possible. And again, respecting his readers’ intellect by leaving things open-ended, a question, does he have the will? There’s no hand holding, every reader will come to their own conclusion. The “pivot to mobile” phrase is a reminder from the body of the time period when Zuckerberg only took meetings with people if their proposals included ways to grow Facebook on mobile devices. Osnos cleverly uses that anecdote to remind the reader one last time of tremendous challenges facing Zuckerberg. And then the final sentence, which again, leaves the reader wondering, can he make it good.

Give the man a cup of coffee.

Postscript: Not a flattering portrait of Zuckerberg and FB. Increasingly, I wonder, why don’t I delete my FB account?

How Does a Racist Become School Superintendent?

I really do not understand.

Given United States history, after the National Football League Houston Texans’ loss Sunday, it’s no surprise at all that a white fan said, “You can’t count on a black quarterback.”

But it’s surprising and sad that the fan is a school superintendent of a Texas school district with 1,020 children. Also, that when criticized, one of his first instincts was to rationalize his racist thought by saying he was referring to the statistical success of black NFL quarterbacks. “Over the history of the NFL,” the superintendent said, “they have had limited success.”

Oh, okay then, you’re just making an objective statement of fact. If there’s no problem though, why did the superintendent add that he hopes none of the district’s students saw the post?

Is it because the brown and black students and their families might view it as further evidence that equal educational opportunity is a mirage when the top educational official, the one responsible for hiring principals, determining curriculum, and setting the overall tone, doesn’t truly trust them or their guardians?

Educational leadership requires school janitors, office staff, teacher aides, teachers, principals, and superintendents to understand that. . .

  • the history of the United States has resulted in a still lingering institutional racism which makes it more difficult for students/people of color to succeed
  • people routinely succumb to negative assumptions about people of color, including students, based upon woefully, inadequate firsthand experience in diverse communities
  • educators have to be extra conscious of holding historically marginalized students in unconditional positive regard trusting they are en route to becoming young adults that will powerfully defy people’s negative, and too often, racist assumptions
  • students are equals in every way, including intellectually, some just require more support than others to achieve their particular academic and personal objectives

How the hell does a person who doesn’t think you can trust quarterbacks with particular skin pigmentation ever succeed in becoming a teacher, let alone a school building leader and then superintendent? Time after time he was vetted and deemed the best candidate for the job. What does that say about the quality of public schooling in Texas?

Also important to note, the superintendent said that he has not faced any repercussions from the post as of Monday afternoon. No public rebuke. No suspension. No diversity training.

What are the odds the School Board provides the necessary leadership to right this wrong? My guess. About the same as The Texans tapping the superintendent to take over at quarterback.

Yes he’s old, pudgy, and slower than molasses, but very trustworthy.

Update.

Wednesday Assorted Links

1. Jordan Spieth laughs off “very British” haircut. Dude seems totally unaffected by his fame. Personable and grounded. Now if he can just get the flat stick heated up again.

2. Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets. Related, I want one of these (the Plus to be specific).

3. No more free food for Facebook employees. Hope they are alright.

4. They don’t own homes. They don’t have kids. Why Millennials are plant addicts.

“Everyone made fun of me because I was sleeping on an air mattress and buying plants. But having living things to care for soothed me.”

“They don’t come in and buy $300 pots unless they are actors. They buy a lot of succulents, hanging plants and airplants.”

What the hell is an airplant?

5. 1 Hen, 76 Ducklings. Call me old fashioned, but I think if you’re going to have a baby, you should take care of it yourself.

In Praise of Digital Minimalism

I just spent five days* cycling on some of Central Oregon’s most beautiful roadways and I don’t have a single picture to show for it. Mount Bachelor and the surrounding mountain lakes were spectacular, as was the Prineville Resevoir, Paulina Lake, and McKenzie Pass.

I wish I had taken a few, but three things conspired against my picture taking—limited jersey pocket space, riding most of it at a very brisk pace, and a reaction against camera happy people who fail to live in the moment because they’re preoccupied with capturing “the moment” for other people and future reference.

I always marveled at the phalanx of parent poparazzi** at my children’s athletic competitions, artistic performances, and graduations. I wanted to ask what’s it like trying to organize all of those images? And even more perplexing, I wondered when exactly they planned on breaking out the 7th grade piano recital video? At halftime of the Superbowl when all of their friends are huddled in front of their television? “Hey, want to watch something even better than Beyonce?!”

In the interest of quality over quantity, computer sanity, and realistically accessing images with some regularity, I’m considering a limit on my digital images. No more than 500. That would make at least one of my daughter’s nauseous. Yes, I’ve heard of the cloud, but what good does it do to have tens of thousands of images or hours upon hours of video if you hardly ever make the time to access more than a tiny fraction of your digital library?

On Saturday, I’m looking forward to attending my eldest’s college graduation in Minnesota. I’ll probably be the only guy not taking pictures or filming for future reference. Why? Because I want to be fully present and I’ll be surrounded by family and friend fotogs***. I will ride their digital coattails just like you can view the ride I took Sunday up and over McKenzie Pass if you click the link in the opening paragraph. The YouTube video shows you some of the fantastic video looping in my head tonight.

* actually four days—I swam, ate, napped, and ate one day while the rest of the gang rode another 100 miles

** damn, that may be my best use of alliteration ever, thank you very much

*** I know how to spell photog, it’s just that sometimes my genius for alliteration gets the best of me

 

 

 

Why the Donald Sterling Fiasco Won’t Initiate a Dialogue on Race

The headline read, “Hall of Famers expect league to support Sam”. Of course the league will support Michael Sam, the all All-American defense lineman at Missouri who is the first openly gay active player in the history of the NFL.

But not because NFL locker rooms are especially progressive places. Some players are sensitive to people’s differing sexual orientations, others are decidedly not. As the Donald Sterling illustrates, social media will silence the Decidedly Nots. Sterling went from owner of the Los Angeles Clippers to a pariah in 72 hours. Similarly, any player caught communicating homophobic things about Sam will immediately feel the full weight of instantaneous social media. And any hope for commercial endorsements will be dashed.

One thread of the Sterling coverage has been “If anything positive comes of this, we need to initiate a discussion on race”. There’s little chance of that because social media tends to create a mob mentality with everyone racing to tar and feather the offending homophobe or racist. That creates a chilling effect on what would help initiate a discussion on race—each of us reflecting honestly on how we pre-judge people different than us. Instead of introspection, we pile on the offending person like an unthinking football player ignoring the official’s whistle.

Unlike social media, education depends upon dialogue and dialogue requires that people trust their point of view will be respectfully listened to. The key is to distinguish between racist or homophobic thoughts, words, and actions. Excellent teachers learn to work sensitively with homophobic thoughts and words, but when it comes to hateful actions, of course people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Excellent teachers learn to work with racist or homophobic thoughts and words by exploring their underlying root causes by asking students questions such as “Why do you believe that?” They know that seeing the world from other people’s points of view does not come naturally. They expand students’ worldviews by introducing them to unfamiliar people and places through literature, the arts, and sometimes travel. And by teaching students to substitute curiosity for negative preconceived notions, so that they too learn to ask others, “Why do you believe what you do?”

What College Professors and Adminstrators Get Wrong

In the age of social media and smartphones, what expectations—if any—should professors have for privacy for lectures and communications intended for students? That’s Colleen Flaherty’s question in Inside Higher Education. The larger question is what expectations should any of us have for privacy?

Flaherty tells the story of Rachel Slocum, assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who was. . . 

stunned earlier this month when what she thought was an innocuous. . . email to students about why they couldn’t access Census data to complete an important course assignment became national news.

Her email. . . blamed the “Republican/Tea Party controlled House of Representatives” for the shutdown and consequent U.S. Census Bureau website blackout. Then it appeared on Fox News, the Daily Caller, and in her local paper, after a student posted a screen shot on Twitter. It also caused uproar on campus, prompting numerous calls and emails to Chancellor Joe Gow, who sent an email to students, faculty, and staff distancing the university from Slocum’s ‘highly partisan’ comments.

Slocum said she probably wrote the email too quickly upon hearing her students couldn’t access the site, without sufficient explanation of her political reference. But the chain reaction was hard to believe, given that she never intended—or thought—that her email would be seen by anyone outside of her geography course.

Stunned, really? Michael Phelps can’t smoke a joint inside a dark fraternity house without smartphone pictures of it appearing in major newspapers. Why was it “hard to believe” your email was tweeted? It could’ve just as easily been forwarded, uploaded to Facebook, and blown up and pasted on the side of La Crosse’s busses.

Another tenured professor of creative writing at Michigan State University had his teaching duties reassigned after he embarked on “. . . what’s been described as an anti-Republican ‘rant on the first day of class in August.”

And Facebook helped Santiago Piñón, assistant professor of religion at Texas Christian University, make headlines last month, when a student he invited via email to a study session for “students of color only” posted the message on her page. Almost instantly, the invitation, which many said discriminated against other students, went viral.

Timeout while I replay in my peabrain what I said in class yesterday afternoon. Yikes! When discussing education reform I took shots at Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Tom Friedman, and 44. When those deets are made public my university’s administration will probably throw me under the bus of public outrage too. If this blog goes dark sometime soon, don’t be surprised. Know that I cherished you dear reader.

Slocum said she saw close monitoring of professor’s words by watchdog groups as potentially chilling to free speech, and as a means of waging the nation’s current political battles on a new front, to the detriment of higher education overall.

Fear is the lifeblood of watchdog groups. And spineless administrators. That’s why tenure is so important. Slocum shouldn’t retract what she wrote, instead she should explain it to any upset students. Granted, they probably won’t agree with her reasoning, but their only concern should be whether Slocum’s politics prevent her from fairly assessing their work.

Gow, Slocum’s chancellor, said that. . . he would have responded “exactly the same way” if Slocum’s email had blamed Democrats or any other group for the shutdown. Both he—a longtime communications scholar—and La Crosse value free speech and academic freedom, he said, but now more than ever the actions of faculty and staff can influence public support for higher education.

Ultimately, Gow said, the Internet has “greatly blurred” the line between what’s public and what’s private, “and we do need to remember that what we’re saying to students may be shared more broadly.”

Come on Gow, “greatly blurred,” really? Try erased. “Blurred” might make more sense if Gow had actually come to Slocum’s defense. Read Gow’s words again. He’s saying maintaining public support trumps free speech and academic freedom.

Gow said that ideally, a student who was offended by a professor’s speech would try to settle the matter internally, first through a conversation with that professor, then through more formal complaint mechanisms as needed. La Crosse also takes student evaluations seriously in personnel decisions, he said.

Could Gow be any more out-of-touch with college students? This generation doesn’t do direct interpersonal conflict. For shitssake, they break up with one another via text messaging. Then there’s Gow’s mind numbing student evaluation hammer. All these years I thought student evaluations focused on whether students learned anything of value in their courses, but I guess they’re at least partly designed to determine whether students are ever made uncomfortable by a professor’s politics. Note to Assistant Professors at Wisconsin La Crosse—wait until you get tenure to express anything that could be deemed the least bit political.

Slocum expressed similar views, saying that taking complaints to the Internet before the institution “seems a breach of trust” and removes them from their context.

Of course that would be preferable, but it’s naive to expect it. Wisconsin La Crosse can update their student honor code, and implore students not to take their complaints to the Internet, but some still will. This generation lives on-line. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

At La Crosse and other institutions . . . Gow suggested that professors make up their own rules and include them on course syllabuses—as some faculty at various institutions. . . already do. But, the chancellor said, enforcing those policies could be another complicated matter. “That’s kind of uncharted territory there, isn’t it?”

Now I’m starting to feel sorry for Gow. And this excerpt heightens my sympathy for Slocum:

This had never happened to me before so it was a new, unexpected and unpleasant experience, Slocum said in an email. And I didn’t expect it because my emails to students are the boring stuff of ‘Why didn’t you turn in that’ or ‘Here are some important points to remember,’ rather than anything that might cause fury on the Internet.

Here’s some unsolicited advice to my syllabi writing brethren whether Packer fans or otherwise: Do not expect the Internet Generation to come to your office to discuss their concern with your politics. And don’t be surprised if they take surreptitious screen shots of you* and your communication. Or tweet something you’ve said or done. Or post about something you’ve said or done to Facebook. Express partisan political views at your own risk.

* I was a recent victim of surreptitious screen shoting while Skyping with the college senior. Told her about a fun Saturday night out where her mother and I watched Flamenco dancing at a downtown Olympia pizza joint. To give her a little flavor flav of the evening, I demonstrated my pretty astounding flamenco skills. Unbeknownst to me, she took a screen shot midway through the demo. Within a few minutes some of her friends on Facebook were eating it up. The worst part of that whole infringement of my privacy? You need video to fully appreciate my mad flamenco skillz.

Digital Photography, Creeping Narcissism, and the End of the World

Whomever scheduled the Olympia High School prom didn’t care that I should have been at the Pre-Classic in TrackTown USA last Saturday night. The true Head of the Household made it clear that I was expected to attend “prom pictures”. Back in the day, prom pictures meant standing in line during the dance to spend sixty seconds getting a picture or two taken by a professional.

Not anymore. Not even close. Now since you can take as many pictures as you want for free, prom pictures are a digital extravaganza.

We got to Tumwater Falls Park at 6:30 p.m. Five nicely dressed couples and lots of parents sporting expensive photographic gear, along with some sibs, and a grandparent or two. Pictures along the river’s edge. More pictures in front of the falls. More pictures on the bridge over the river. Guys only. Girls only. More pictures involving play acting a martial arts fight. All with an eye towards bolstering one’s Facebook self. Despite being an endurance athlete, at 8:15 p.m., I was byrned out.

For the Digital Photography generation, a lengthy prom pictorial is just the tip of the iceberg. In upper middle class suburbs, you can’t just have your senior picture taken. You have to schedule a shooting with a professional. During the shooting you’ll change clothes, travel to a few different locations, and I suppose, feel special. And don’t even think of mailing a text-based graduation announcement. You have to have craft a photo-montage of your graduate through the years. If you plan ahead, you might be able to use parts of or the same collage in your quarter (you like your child), half (you like your child twice as much as quarter page parents), or whole-page (you truly love your child) year book dedication to your graduate.

This may be more of a female, Tyra Banks inspired thing, but a favorite after-school or weekend activity for many teenage girls? Getting friends together for a photo-shoot. Different clothing, music, serious, silly, inside, outside, five hundred images to choose among, edit, and upload to Facebook.

Look at me. And leave a cryptic comment so I know you’ve seen me. The more pictures taken of them, the more convinced many teens become that the world revolves around them.

This may be the most cynical of my 745 posts. I acknowledge, life is better today than when I attended the Cypress (California) high school prom in 1980. Grandma Byrnes always loves the personal calendar that Seventeen whips up using digital pictures from the previous year. But I can’t help but think there’s a cost to nearly free digital photography. It’s accelerated a child-centeredness that promotes self-centeredness.

The digital photography generation doesn’t enjoy better self esteem or mental health. If anything, the more pictures they take, the less value each one has, and the more self conscious they become.

Look at me. And tell me I’m alright.