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)

What is Making Me Happy: Yoga

Following the model of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and, to a lesser extent, the Make Me Smart daily podcast, I want to remind myself that there are things that bring me joy. These posts are meant to be quick hits that identify and/or recommend things—usually artistic or cultural, sometimes culinary—that are making me happy in a given week. I am making this quick format a semi-regular Friday/Saturday feature.

This week: yoga

I have never been particularly flexible. In the year since the pandemic started, I’ve noticed that my lack of flexibility has gotten worse in my hips and back, probably because the changes have meant more time sitting with poor posture in an office chair overdue for replacement. About a month ago, I decided to do something about this lack of flexibility.

…and now I have a daily yoga habit.

I started with short videos from the Yoga with Adriene channel and gradually expanded the practice to longer, more complex routines. One month into my practice, I have already begun to notice a difference. As great as this benefit is, though, that is only the most obvious reason that yoga is making me happy.

Each of the past several years I have resolved to start a mindfulness practice using the Headspace app. These are okay, and the gamification of the regular habit works for me—there is a reason that I have a 600+ day streak on DuoLingo—but I found the soothing voices mildly annoying and while I do pretty well with just silent meditation, I also have been unable to find the discipline to regularly make time to look for that calm.

Yoga, by contrast, works for me. I often find movement more calming than stillness because it gives me a focus and incorporating yoga into my daily exercise routine means that I actually do it. In addition, the routines that Adriene Mishler puts out emphasize conscious breath and finding time for stillness as part of of the regular practice, so I still get to work my way to periods of meditation at the end of most sessions. . The result is a sweet spot between physical exercise, stretching, and mindful meditation, whether I’m settling my mind before starting work or using it to find calm later in the day when I have a dozen things going on.