Weekly Varia no. 10, 01/21/23

The first week of the semester is in the books. All three of my classes have gotten off to pretty good starts, but I always forget how exhausting the first week of the semester can be. My to-do list has bloomed (more algae than roses, though) heading into this weekend, so this weekend will be spent slowly working through tasks that range from some administrative upkeep to shorting up soft spots in my reading lists to the first round of grading, lest the semester snowball out of control.

This week’s varia:

  • Daniel Bessner has a good opinion piece in the Times about the perilous state of history. He points out that “deprofessionalization” of the field creates the breeding grounds for ” the ahistoric ignorance upon which reaction relies” because so much “history” is placed in the hands of social media influencers and influential partisan actors like Bill O’Reilly.
  • ChatGPT roundups are just a thing, I guess.
  • The Missouri legislature is currently debating a bunch of CRT-in-education bills. One proposed bill ensures that nobody will be offering kindergartners classes in CRT, a field of study usually reserved for law schools and advanced sociology degrees. I say, why are parents trying to stop their kids from being pushed ahead? More seriously, this is a continuation of last year’s cultural war du jour that treats any sort of training on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion as nefarious CRT and legislates feelings in a way that puts teachers in an impossible position, which is why one proponent of the bill simply refused to define what he meant by it. These sorts of debates only hurt education, but what bothers me most about the committee meeting is the hostility toward education and educators. When a poll revealed that only one school district claimed they taught a class on these issues, the committee chair’s response was “at least one school district was honest.”
  • The Washington Post has a profile of Matt Yglesias, looking at his career as a disrupter, contrarian, and public thinker. Personally, I find Yglesias to be a problematic figure whose primary claim as someone who can spin a plausible argument out of minimal evidence is as symptomatic of where we are as a society as is Donald Trump. Every once in a while he makes a worthwhile point, but, most of the time, he’s functionally firing hot takes that get treated as something more substantial.
  • The re-election campaign for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who appoints the Chicago school superintendent, sent email to schoolteachers asking that they encourage students to work for the campaign in exchange for school credit. This very likely violates ethics rules—especially since there credible (it’s Chicago) accusations of retaliation from the mayor. Students volunteering for campaigns for credit is nothing new, but teachers are not supposed to encourage participation in specific campaigns.
  • The Oversight Board at Meta, which oversees content decisions for both Facebook and Instagram, has told the company that it should “free the nipple” (so to speak). What this will look like is yet to be determined since the company is still likely to want to keep pornography off the platforms, which was the genesis of the policy.
  • A Republican candidate for office in New Mexico has been arrested as the mastermind of a string of shootings that targeted Democratic politicians in the state. The man had to overcome a legal challenge to even stay in the election given his prior felony conviction and, unsurprisingly, he claims that the election was stolen from him.
  • An Indiana woman repeatedly stabbed an 18-year-old student in Indiana University of Asian heritage. The suspect told police that it “would be one less person to blow up our country.”
  • The Kansas City Defender, a black news outlet, reported on the abduction of black women in Kansas City, but the KC police department dismissed the allegations. Then, in December, a woman escaped captivity. Capital B News has an interview with Ryan Sorrell, the founder of the KC Defender, about the story and his efforts to create a crowd-sourced Black missing persons database.
  • Ohio officially declared natural gas “green energy.” The Washington Post has an article on how the campaign ran on Dark Money. Because, of course it did.
  • Americans might be done with the pandemic, but the pandemic is not done with us. Also from the Washington Post, winter COVID surges are a new normal, adding to the typical surges in other respiratory illnesses.
  • Jacinda Ardern is stepping down as Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying that she doesn’t have “enough in the tank” to do the job any longer. While this decision coincides with an uptick in threats against her, I am struck by a politician having the unusual level of self-awareness to know when enough is enough and the combination of humility and privilege to be able to act on that knowledge.
  • Vulture has a good piece on the labor conditions in Hollywood’s VFX studios where the industry standards were developed before the current age of enormous amounts of work after filming, which is leading to systemic understaffing and underpaying made worse by Marvel being a Goliath in the industry.
  • “Marge vs the Monorail” aired thirty years ago this month. Alan Siegel at The Ringer got Conan O’Brien to talk about his idea for the episode as a cross between The Music Man and an Irwin Allen disaster film.

Album of the Week: Counting Crows, This Desert Life

Currently Reading: Marissa R. Moss, Her Country; Rabun M. Taylor, Roman Builders

Weekly varia no. 8, 01/07/23

I conceive of these introductions as a mini-essay covering something that happened in the week or some issue that I have been mulling over for the previous few days. For this week, I think a peek behind the curtain is in order.

These posts, which I started about two months ago, serve several functions. They force me to read a little more widely than I otherwise would do, while supplying a recommended reading list, allowing me to editorialize a little bit, and providing the flair of what I’m reading and listening to in a given week. I start compiling potential articles for the following week almost as soon as the previous one goes up on Saturday, putting them in a new draft. My goal is to find one thing to include each day, but, in reality, these posts reflect what I read that week. Sometimes that means more blog posts, sometimes more articles. Sometimes I get busy. I also don’t like just including the story du jour, especially when it is still unfolding.

And, sometimes, all of these things happen at once.

I am writing this introduction on Friday evening from a hotel room in New Orleans where several things are happening at once:

  1. Members of the House of Representatives are voting for the fourteenth time on who will be Speaker of the House, making this the fifth or sixth longest process in US History, and the longest since before the US Civil War (he did not win on this ballot, either).
  2. The contestants of the Miss Universe Pageant are wandering around the hotel in gowns and sashes, filming various things.
  3. The AIA-SCS annual meeting is taking place (I’m unwinding in my room rather than attending receptions).

To say that this week has been distracting is an understatement. I have written about this conference in the past, and will do so again next week as part of getting back to business as usual if I find that I have something worth saying once I’ve had a chance to collect my thoughts.

This week’s varia:

  • Pro Publica has a new report on professors muzzling their courses or scrambling to change the class descriptions (which often are designed with the intention of attracting students) in the wake of DeSantis’ new rules in Florida. These laws are designed to curtail academic speech and impede education. In an entirely unsurprising detail, tenured faculty in some schools are pushing the risky classes off on contingent faculty. I get that this is a risky political climate, but I have a hard time fighting for the position of tenured faculty who treat contingent folks as expendable.
  • Jonathan Wilson has a post that asks whether higher education administrators actually understand education. He closes with a relatable sentiment: “I’m just tired of suspecting that U.S. higher education’s overall future is in the care of people who don’t even know what a college education is, let alone have any inclination to make the case for it before the American public.”
  • Ellie Mackin-Roberts has an excellent piece on pedagogical uses for ChatGPT that I’m just now getting to. I’m more likely to use the “correct an AI-generated essay” as an in-class exercise than as an assignment, but it is the one in which I see the brightest potential.
  • Vox has a good breakdown of why the extreme rainfall in California will not alleviate the water crisis after years of megadrought. The article notes that this rain will also disrupt flood-control infrastructure and points out that if this is a new normal, California will need to retool systems to capture this water rather than relying on the decreased snowpack.
  • From December in the Washington Post, a profile about the chaos in Somalia caused by President Trump pulling US troops from the country. I’m a little cautious of these stories given the reporting on similar operations from Afghanistan, but a line about comments from Danab (Somali special forces) that, on top of expertise, a US presence insulates them from political leaders who might turn them against civilian protesters and political opponents points to the complexity of the issue.
  • The military build-up and buffer zone between India and China in the Himalayas is disrupting traditional herding grounds and interfering with the trade in Cashmere (Washington Post).
  • NPR has an examination of Guru Jagat, a popular yoga instructor who her followers described as “real” and “grounded.” Then she became a believer in Q-Anon during the pandemic. The article connects the spiritual teachings of yoga to the way in which “truth” becomes revealed in these conspiracies.
  • Matt Gaetz apparently despises Kevin McCarthy, in no small part because he feels that McCarthy did not adequately stand up for him amid the sex-trafficking probe, even though McCarthy did not strip him of his committee appointments.
  • Dylan Scott at Vox reflects on the obsession with American football in the wake of Damar Hamlin’s injury on Monday. His obvious conclusion is that the football industrial complex works hard to downplay the undeniable violence in the game and that more catastrophic injuries and even deaths will occur so long as people keep watching. You could take the story back even further. In my US history survey, we spend a little time talking about how they changed the game in response to growing public outcry about players being killed on the field.

Album of the Week: Jukebox the Ghost, “Cheers”

Currently Reading: P. Djèlí Clark, A Master of Djinn (reread, this time in preparation for class)