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Depoliticizing Voting

How did voting become a political issue? I don’t mean who you vote for. That’s obviously very political. But all of the surrounding stuff really troubles me. Both parties saying the other will cheat. Both parties saying the other will try to keep people from voting, or will encourage people to vote more than once. And that doesn’t even begin to address actual reported voter fraud. The news is full of voter fraud lately. I think it’s time to deal with this problem and put it to bed. I suspect nothing at all will be done, because I suspect both major parties cheat, and each party thinks they’re better at it than the other. That’s not very charitable, and on other days I feel different, but that is how I feel on this day. I’d like to address several things in the next few minutes. I have no political agenda in this matter, I just believe that the process can be improved.

  1. Only adult United States Citizens should be entitled to a vote. This does not seem to be political to me. I can’t vote in France, or Mexico, or North Korea, even if I move there. If I become a citizen, I can. Seems very simple to me.
  2. We should have a voting age. In my opinion, if you are not old enough to die for your country, and you are not old enough to make decisions about what you put in your body (nicotine, alcohol, etc.) you are not old enough to vote. You can’t have a beer but you can help decide the fate of the nation seems somehow wrong to me. I’m not advocating for raising or lowering any specific age of consent, but I am for using common sense to determine when humans are adult ‘enough’ for various activities. The founders, who placed age restrictions on various levels of service understood that youth and experience both had their place, and might disagree with me on the drinking-voting equivalency, but following their lead might not be a bad idea either. How about you can only vote for an office you are legally allowed to hold?
  3. Everyone should get one vote. This is already the law. What we need is a way to make it bullet proof, and fair to all. In this next part, I outline how to accomplish this.

A Perfectly Fair Election In Five Easy Items

Item One: Every citizen gets one vote, and only one vote. Non-citizens get no votes. The idea of requiring identification for voting has been portrayed by the left as a subtle way of making sure that the poor or disadvantaged can not vote.This facile argument doesn’t hold up. We require identification for all sorts of things and no one cares. Video stores used to demand my Social Security card to rent a copy of ‘The Mask’. But the hurdles to having identification, such as they are, need to be addressed. I’m a personal fan of the United States requiring every citizen to have a passport and just using that for voting. It’s better than the Social Security card because it has anti forging features and a picture. Its downside is that it’s expensive. I am not a big fan of taxes and such, but in this case I’d gladly pay for a second passport for someone who couldn’t afford it, if it led to greater election integrity. I’m sure millions of others would join me, and if not, the Federal Government has shown no reluctance to spending far more than this would cost on far less. So, step one is that, as Oprah would say, “you get a passport, and you get a passport, EVERYONE GETS A PASSPORT”. Each passport has a unique number on it. We’re going to use that number in a minute.

Item Two: You use your passport number to vote. Not directly, your passport number creates a new number known only to you by means of a program connected to a blockchain. That new number can be used by you to vote in person, or on your phone, or on a friend’s phone in a gas station parking lot, or whatever. You can vote on election day. You can vote the week before. If there are legally allowed circumstances, you can vote the day after.

Item Three: You can vote as many times as you want. The blockchain enabled program will only keep your most recent vote. If you’re worried you won’t make it to election day, you vote a week early. If you change your mind the day of, you just vote again. Your old vote is erased and replaced with your new vote. If you are coerced into casting a vote for someone, you can just go back and change it later, up to when the voting closes for an election.

Item Four: You (and only you) can view your vote at any time. Using your passport and code you can see who your vote was cast for. You are absolutely certain there was no fraud with your ballot. This information is encrypted into the blockchain.

Item Five: Votes can be tabulated instantly and error free. Once we call time (Olly olly oxen free!) we can have a big red button in Times Square that we press to see who won.

Is this solution perfect? Nope. Here’s a list of problems.

  1. People could still sell their votes. But it would get more expensive, because they could sell their votes over and over, then still vote for whomever they preferred in the privacy of their homes.
  2. The Passport office is not nearly equipped to do this in the short term.
  3. For this to be most effective, a combination of passport, blockchain and biometrics would be preferable. However, some people don’t have easy access to biometric equipment, but it’s becoming more and more common in handheld devices.
  4. Someday someone may figure out a way to break blockchains, and that will present a new problem. However, it seems like it would be a lot harder than ringing up a bunch of votes on a voting machine before polls open, requesting a ballot on behalf of an unsuspecting citizen, pulling a ballot out of someone’s mail box, or paying someone money for their ballot, all of which have been reported as having happened recently. And as a bonus, the world would get to forget that a chad is a little piece of paper that can be left hanging or even pregnant.

I understand that this would be a new way of doing things. It would be uncomfortable, especially for people my age and older. When I was younger I worked the polls at my precinct. We, Democrats and Republicans alike, were beyond conscientious. We had a chalk line past which electioneering could not take place. It was measured at least three or four times by each side, who came ready with their own tape measures. We turned away voters in overtly political apparel, regardless of party. We counted signatures, ballots, and ballot stubs. If those numbers didn’t match, we recounted until they matched twice in a row. We then transported the locked ballot boxes to the building where they were to be counted and at least one representative from each side stayed until OUR ballots were added to the total. Sometimes it was late into the night when we left, hours after we stopped being paid (not that the pay mattered, no one there was working the polls for the money). We cared. A lot of people still do. I still do. That’s why I wrote this. I think implementing this idea will make elections more secure. I believe that it would make the counts more accurate. I believe that it would make it easier for people to vote, and harder for people to cheat. All are worthy outcomes.

My Problem With Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic & Extrinsic Sources of Motivation

I was preparing a slide deck for my Creativity & Innovation students today when I had an insight. I have a research problem. I used to really enjoy research, especially writing, but I even enjoyed statistical analysis and data collection. I’m not enjoying it right now and I find other things to do instead of doing the work that needs to be done. This blog post is one of those things.

But I figured out (I think) one key reason that research is a burden right now. I’m completely motivated to publish. Nothing else matters. I won’t do crappy work, but I will absolutely work on your paper whether or not I’m interested in it, because one more publication is one step closer to tenure. My motivation is one hundred percent extrinsic at this point. If you had some crazy post-modern paper and wanted me to try and push it across the finish line it wouldn’t matter that I think the entire post-modern movement (in academia) is a waste of time. I’d make it flow. I’d make it easy to read, I’d try to be convincing.

To me, that sounds a lot like intellectual prostitution. But I need the results of getting good (highly ranked) papers published. So far I’ve avoided writing things that I flat disagree with, but I can imagine myself doing it. I believe that I will be much happier, and counter intuitively, more productive once this tenure thing is out of the way. I spend more time writing when I enjoy what I’m writing about. I write better when I’m interested in what I’m writing about. It will be a good thing. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an old trick that our mind plays on us that some imagined state in the future will be better than the state you’re in now, but in this case I believe that it may be true. In the mean time, do you have any A or B journal material that needs polished?

It is What it Is

This is what happens when you disagree

The President of the United States is being pilloried for using the phrase ‘it is what it is’ in reference to the number of dead from Covid-19 in the United States. It was a short comment, and taken out of context for the express purpose of painting a sitting President as someone who does not care for the country. Even if you paint your own beliefs about the President on his every statement, he is not wrong. And that is why the statement stings so much.

‘It is what it is’ is an idiom that means what has happened has happened, the situation exists, and that’s it. It is a neutral phrase, often used to say that we must accept it, because we have no other choice. When it comes to the present, this is always true. It is an acknowledgment of reality. Whining that things are not as they should be, but instead are as they are, is childish at best, and perhaps delusional. Does anyone think that if the President (or anyone) refused to accept that these people are dead that they would spring back to life? Of course not. The list of people that can do that is exceedingly short, even for people who have various religious faiths.

The big problem with ‘it is what it is’ is that it does acknowledge reality. The people who are upset do not like reality as it is. Well guess what, I don’t either. I wish that we didn’t have a formerly pandemic grade virus killing people in the US. I wish that nine unarmed black men weren’t killed by police in 2019. I wish over 600,000 people hadn’t died from heart disease last year either. But it is what it is.

Understanding that ‘it is what it is’ is the beginning of meaningful change, not a mean spirited ‘up yours’ to the people of the United States. We must acknowledge things as they are before we can begin to change them. The only reason to act as if it is a giant middle finger is to denigrate the President and influence the incoming election. This President has said enough, done enough, that the peole you are trying to incite are already incited. Stick to reality. There is still more than enough ammo to keep you busy.

Some Things are Better than Other Things

View of the World Trade Center after both towers were attacked, but before they fell

This is a very controversial thing to say, so let’s stir the pot right up front. William A. Henry III once said that “It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose”. I’m not sure if I can make a case that this is not racist. I’m not sure who it’s racist against, as several African tribes, the Mayans, and people from New Guinea have all engaged in the practice, but I’m sure if you said something like that out loud you’d be branded for life. However, there is an underlying truth there that is under attack.

For me, September 11th brings it back into focus when I forget. I’m not a religious guy, but if your religion says it’s ok to lie to, steal from, or even kill people who don’t believe what you believe then I have no use for you or your religion. This is not just Islam. We all know that Christianity has been the cause of many deaths as well. I wonder how many were killed by militant Buddhists. I wonder if there are militant Buddhists. The basic tenet of Wicca is ‘and it harm no one, do what you will’. That sounds preferable to both ‘he who raises the sword in the name of Allah shall be rewarded’ and ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’.

From a cultural standpoint, if your culture treats someone differently based on their gender or the color of their skin, or their sexual preference it is worse than one that does not. If your women can’t drive, or vote, or hold political office, I don’t want to know you. Your blacks, or your whites, or your Jews or your Uyghurs are second class citizens, are murdered, or locked up based on skin color or religion, I don’t want any part of your culture.

There are many ways to resolve a problem. Some ways are better than others. Negotiation > Protesting > Rioting > Revolution. It may be necessary to escalate at times, I get that. But all else being equal, a violent response to any nonviolent situation makes you the asshole.

To judge what is better requires a set of beliefs. Mine are this.

  1. Eventually, the entire universe will be a blanket of dust.
  2. Until then, for me, the continuation of human life is the desired outcome.
  3. After survival, individual liberty is most important.
  4. After liberty, human safety and security is most important.
  5. Everything else will probably sort itself out.

A more spiritual person would undoubtedly place spiritual well being above all of this, but that is not a luxury I have. This leads to me not being able to use God as an excuse to attack someone, or make a decision that is bad for the survival of the species. This leads to a couple of very unpopular things that I believe that I don’t feel like getting into right now. But what this set of beliefs does, is allows me to not have to think about every single thing and constantly fret about whether or not I’m on the ‘right’ side of any issue.

My Heroes

My heroes…not really

It’s always fun to begin with an apology, so I’m sorry to all the very important people in my life, whether I’ve met you or not, that I forget. I’m putting together a list of heroes as I write, and undoubtedly I’ll leave someone very very important to me off and I’ll feel bad about it. I’ll feel even worse if they’re someone who knows me and could feel left out. Well, on to the brain dump.

First, since the little picture I made features cartoon super heroes, who are my heroes that have only existed as ideas, books, and movies? My favorite writers are Frank Herbert, Ayn Rand, and J. R. R. Tolkien. There are lots of others, but I’ve spent more time in those three authors’ books than in any other, except for maybe the Bible. Perhaps Vorian Atreades or Miles Teg from the Dune Universe, but no one really speaks to me from there. Ayn Rand’s Characters are supposed to be heroic, but none of them speak to me individually. I’m not a fan of Hank Reardon, or anyone in Atlas really, maybe Howard Roark (not a fan of the rape/quasi-rape or whatever), but not really him either. I like many of Tolkien’s characters as well, but none I’d call heroes. If I had to come up with a fictional hero, I suppose Valentine Michael Smith (from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land) is as good a choice as many. I’ve thought several times about changing my name to Valentine in his honor, so I guess he got to me, or I just want a really cool name….

So, that was a bust. Let’s look at family. My mom and I have had our differences, but I truly admire her. She always worked, and worked a lot. She has amazing artistic talent. She is beautiful and kind. Other than her I don’t have a lot going in my family. In my foster families (I’ve had several) there were lots of people I took little bits from to try and make myself better. Truly though, my last foster father, Bill, is one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. Calm and ordered, brilliant, funny, and not once in my life have I seen him out of control. He handles the world with kindness, attention, and thoughtfulness. I hope someday to be like him.

How about famous people? I’m a fan of the accomplishment of tech giants like Elon Musk and Richard Branson, people with giant media empires like Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh, and brilliant entertainers like Dustin Hoffman, Audrey Hepburn, Helen Mirren, and Keanu Reeves. (You can question the last one if you like, but how many people saw John Wick, and why?) When I wanted to be an actor (some days I still do) I never cared to have a career, or really thought about the money. I love to affect people. Stunned silence was just as flattering to me as applause. I can’t think of a single actor who has been a hero to me. But I can, off the top of my head name several comedians. First for me was George Carlin. He loved comedy, but he loved freedom of speech even more. His work was brilliant. The good he did for the art is immeasurable. Of course, he stands on the back of Lenny Bruce, who was a hero of his, and also of mine. He did some really heavy lifting on freedom of speech, and while fighting all of that redefined what comedy was and what comedians did. Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy move me as well as entertain me. I’d be proud to have 10% the talent they have. And I can’t mention comics without talking about Greg Giraldo. Most people who are not comedian junkies haven’t heard of him. But he was a one man roast machine. I would love to have that kind of presence.

No musicians are my heroes. I have wide tastes and deep interests, but no musician has risen to hero status with me. I loved Prince, I loved Bowie, I love a lot of bands and admire their work greatly, but none are heroes to me, at least not in the mood I’m in today. On another day maybe David Byrne, or Dave Stewart or Frank Zappa or Sun Ra, but not this day.

Scientists. Richard Feynman. Issac Asimov. Maybe others. I know Asimov was a writer as well. I’ve read many of his fiction and nonfiction works, but he transcended being an author, at least for me. I saw him as a learned man first, and an author second. And Richard Feynman could teach theoretical physics to a rock. He had a once in a generation gift, or that’s how it seemed to me.

Social Scientists. As a social scientist myself, I should be influenced by a lot of professors. There’s a long list. Mike Goldsby and Jim Fiet, without which I’m not sure I’d exist as a professor. Peter Klein, Per Davidsson, Howard Aldrich, Donald Siegal, Jay Barney. Many others. I’m grateful for all of them. But the only one I’ve met that I say to myself ‘I’d like to be like that one when I grow up’ is Don Mosley. And it’s really not about academics. It just seems like he really has his priorities in order. He’s a lot like my foster father Bill.

Regular folk. First has to be Anne Reed. I’ve watched her pursue a dream for years, and finally get it. It’s amazing to see that. Michael Crum. He decided to be a professor, and went full tilt. I think he ended up getting his PhD at 24 or something. He was focused, but still had a life. I have yet to master doing both those things together. Another that had that mastered was Gary Butterman. He passed away just before getting his PhD, but he really seemed to have his life together and was a joy everywhere he went. I think about him a lot, and would like people to think about me the way I think about him. (This list could go on a long time too.)

So, what have I leaned from this brain dump? Well, I value kindness most of all. After that I think competence, tenacity, and intelligence, in more or less that order. So to make myself happy I probably should focus in being as nice a person as I can. Then, decide on some things to go after, things that are difficult, and will stretch my mental abilities, and start going after them. Easy advice to give myself. Wonder if I’ll take it.

I’m Sorry

Zoe Saldana (left) has previously defended the decision to play Nina Simone.

The woman on the left is Zoe Saldana. She is an actress. The woman on the right is Nina Simone, a singer. The woman on the left apologized for playing the woman on the right in a movie in 2016. She wasn’t ‘black enough’ and should have realized that. Plus, she had to wear a prosthetic nose. She deeply regrets it.

Wasn’t. Black. Enough. I think what she means is then she wasn’t woke enough, but she is now. When will this end?

People are having to very carefully frame Shia LaBeouf’s role in ‘The Tax Collector’ so that we all understand that he’s not playing a Hispanic character, he’s playing a Hispanic adjacent character.

How about we just enjoy the damn movie? How about we admit why he’s in the movie in the first place. He’ll put buts in the seats (assuming audiences are ever allowed to go to the movies again). From a studio standpoint they would love to sub in Keanu Reeves, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, or Sandra Bullock. They make money, so they work. And they’re all bigger bankable stars than poor Shia.

Anyway, actors are tripping all over themselves to apologize for ‘taking work’ from protected groups. If you’re not black, you can’t play a black person. Does not apply to blacks playing whites in Hamilton, but that (fantastic) play is having its own special moment separate from this tragedy. Heterosexuals should no longer play homosexual people. I’m waiting for the backlash on Emmas Stone, for playing Billie Jean King. Only people actually switching genders should play roles of that nature. I’m not sure about Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club. (He played a transsexual. So, in this case the transsexual was a man who dressed as a woman and he is a man and he did dress as a woman, so, is that ok or not?) Even voice actors can’t ‘act’ outside their race without garnering intense criticism. I wonder where they’re going to find a snowman….

Here are a few updates from ‘tinsel town’. Brian Cranston has legs. Al Pacino can see. Ben Stiller is not ridiculously, ridiculously, good looking. George Peppard was not, in fact, a sea monster, or various sea monsters. Daryl Hannah is not a mermaid. And believe it or not Christopher Reeves was not from the planet Krypton.

In order to get out on top of all of this I have a confession to make. Several confessions, as a matter of fact.

  • I played a ghost in a play in high school. I am not in fact a ghost.
  • I played an old minister in another play. I am not in fact, a minister, and am not now as old as the character I played 35 years ago.
  • I have played characters of various races, with different sexual orientations than my own.
  • I have played people younger, and older than myself.
  • I have played people who were in vocations I knew nothing about and involved in activities which I find reprehensible.
  • I have played people with various handicaps, including stutters, physical deformities, and mental impairments.
  • I have not appeared in what is considered ‘traditional blackface’ but only because I was never cast in a role that required it.
  • I have worn makeup to alter my physical appearance, including skin color, facial features, body features, height, and weight.
  • I have even appeared in white face, as a mime, as a minstrel, and as a vampire, at least. I am not now, nor have I ever been any of those things.
  • I have worn Halloween costumes of all kinds. I was never actually any of those things. I didn’t have access to the irony of going as myself to a Halloween party. But now that I mention it…

And here’s the big confession: I’m not sorry. I love acting. If, in the future, I’m given the opportunity to act I won’t think twice about dressing up as a woman, a man pretending to be a woman, a person of a different race, a non-person of any kind (say a dog, or an alien, or a floating blob of gas or something), a homosexual, or even a combination of several of the above. Yes, I’ll play a black, homosexual vampire, and I’ll do my best to knock it out of the park. What I won’t do is wring my hands about all the poor black homosexual vampires who’s work I’m stealing. If they want it, they can spend more time working on their monologue and less time being offended.

RIP Redskins

Been nice knowin’ ya

The Washington Redskins have announced that they are changing their name. Honestly I really don’t care. I’m not a sports guy. I’m glad that people find enjoyment in it, but it’s pretty boring to me. I liked to play sports, and might like to do so again, but to sit and watch others play isn’t my idea of fun.

I am not attached to the name Redskins. Thousands of fans are, but their opinions don’t matter. The owner vowed to never change the name, but he has seen the error of his ways when Amazon and Nike and other retailers decided to no longer sell team merch.

Who the name offends, and why it’s offensive is interesting. Most native Americans are not offended, at least according to several polls I’ve seen. White liberals, on the other hand decided that it was derogatory and get super offended about it when there’s not something else more interesting to be upset about. Hooray for white liberals deciding to be offended on behalf of another minority. There seems to be a pattern here, but hey I’m sure the world needs more white saviors.

The rage industry will march ever on. Its tools are the euphemism treadmill and the slippery slope, among others. Keeping this in mind, the team formerly known as the Redskins must be very careful when choosing a new name. I’d like to suggest Savages, but that term has a clearer pejorative history when applied to native Americans. It would be funny though, to watch the NFL jump from the frying pan to the fire. (Probably shouldn’t say that, the phrase ‘frying pan to the fire’ is probably triggering to someone.)

Seriously though, what to name the team? In a time when Americans are tearing down and defacing memorials to the men who wrote the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and freed the slaves, any choice will be suspect. What should the team colors be? They’ve indicated that they’ll keep the same colors, but those colors are so closely associated with the name they’d be better advised to let them go so that they don’t have another battle down the road. Obviously they can’t use gray, because it’s associated with slavery, or white, because everything white is suspect. (Companies that make products to lighten skin are tiptoeing around this problem now looking for ways to accurately communicate what their product does without using the words lightening or whitening.) Orange is now associated with the most hated man in the world, so it’s out. But most colors are still safe, again for now.

Animal names are common, but they are already being attacked by fringe groups, who will in time become non fringe groups. So best to stay away from animals altogether. It seems that every number has been construed to be associated with some hate group or other, along with many shapes.

I really see no other alternative than to name the team ‘ ‘. That’s right, four spaces. No mascot, no colors. The inescapable roll of the euphemism treadmill will at some point crush every word, shape, and color. Someone, somewhere, will find a way to be offended, and because one is offended, all will have to change. It will be difficult to be offended by four blank spaces, but eventually that will happen too, if for no other reason than the blank spaces are sometimes called white space, or four of them strung together will develop some deeply disturbing ‘dog whistle’ of meaning that no one actually hears, but people can get upset about nonetheless.

Moving Towards Happiness

My last couple posts could have been interpreted as being political. That is not my intent, but in today’s world (It’s 5/22/2020) the choice between yellow and brown mustard will be construed by someone as a redpill decision. This particular blog is supposed to deal less with all that and more with my life as an academic. My intent is to share things that I think other academics, other entrepreneurs, and other people who are in my orbit might be interested in and might learn from. Like most blogs, this one is self-serving, at least to some degree. I write about what interests me, and pretend as I’m writing that others will be interested in my words. Sometimes they are, often not, but the act of putting words on (virtual) paper is both therapeutic and helps me clarify my thoughts. (This is called writing to think.) So apology, if it was an apology, over. On to what I want to work through and share today.

I have been very fortunate for the past few years. Almost everything has gone right for me, despite my eager attempts to mess it up. I have a lovely wife, a nice home, a great (and I mean really great) job in a wonderful community that’s a short drive to the ocean. I was (and still am I guess) having a little trouble getting the requisite number and type of academic articles published that will help me secure this job long term. Just as I was getting really desperate my dean sent me to a conference that I hated at the time but has changed my publishing portfolio considerably. Everyone around me is losing their job, but mine seems secure for at least the next year, so I don’t even have to worry about that. Life is good.

I did not engineer my good fortune. I’m helping it along the best I can, but I do not feel like the architect. My decisions led me here, but those decisions have magnified my fortune in ways I’m very grateful for. I want to talk about those decision briefly, and maybe think of some other decisions I should make at the end.

  1. One decision that has driven me forward has been to engage with the Academy of Process Educators. This is the group from the conference I mentioned that I hated above. The experience was like drinking from a fire hose and I got fed up. It is the only time post-graduation that I’ve ever felt like I wasn’t in control. But it was an excellent opportunity to stretch, and the people involved are all focused on self improvement in the classroom and in life.
  2. I decided for a time to step away from politics. I was happier, but I drifted back. I’m stuck now between ‘this is too important to not pay attention’ and ‘I’m so much happier when I don’t engage. If the world goes to hell in a hand basket and I don’t do anything to stop it, if I’m unaware it’s even happening, doesn’t that make me the bad guy? But really, what can I do to stop it? Voting red or blue once every couple years is no way to affect change, so I think I’m back on a no politics track.
  3. I decided when I started this teaching thing that it was the right thing to do because it was where I’d have the most leverage. I get a fresh batch of people who have not yet lost hope every semester. Considering them as the most precious resource was a good decision.
  4. I decided to de-emphasize the role of venture capital in my classes, and focus on what people could do for themselves, with the resources they already had. This may mean that none of my students start the next Facebook or Uber, but I can live with that.
  5. I have recently decided to join another community. This one is called ‘The Third Way’. It is focused on side hustles. The people I’ve met in the community so far are interested in bettering their lives in meaningful ways, which quite often requires generating an income that is not dependent on an employer. They seem to be very positive people overall.

There are probably lots of other things I’ve done that have added up to my good fortune. But what started this line of thought is that I’m happier now than I have been in the past because I’m surrounded by happier people than I have been in the past. Some of them are more successful by a lot, others, not so much, but the people I see and talk to are enjoying their lives, and maybe because of that, maybe not, I’m enjoying mine.

Since I’m being introspective in public, let’s see what new decisions I maybe should make. I’m totally spitballing here, I haven’t thought this through at all, but here I go, writing to think again.

  1. I mentioned above banning politics and replacing it with something better. Something better could be anything, or even nothing (hello Headspace). So I think that’s been on my subconscious a while. Let’s do that.
  2. I really need to address this weight problem. It’s thorny. It has the potential to disrupt my life in ways I’m kind of scared to contemplate. I don’t mean that being obese is a burden. It probably is, but the things I’d need to do to address that will probably create problems in my home and social life.
  3. I was on a good run at the gym, but they closed the gym. It’s open now and I haven’t started. I think know I should do that right away.
  4. I have been sleeping a lot. One of the things I’ve prided myself on is designing a life where I didn’t need an alarm clock. I only wake up to an alarm clock a few times a year at present. But my sleeping time has migrated up from the 7-10 that I used to get. I averaged 9 hours over the last couple years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time I look at the data I’m averaging 12 hours a day. That’s too much, even in a quarantine.

I think those make a good starting list. I can’t promise I’ll report back, because I’ve been insanely inconsistent on this blog, but I’ll try to check in soon. I have a list of things I want to write about that probably has about a hundred items on it currently, so there isn’t any reason I can’t bang a few of these out. I may have to delete the entire blog if I go looking for a job someday, but worrying about that is like any worry, interest on a loan I may not owe. Good day.

Socialism Doesn’t Work, and I’m Willing to Bet the Market on it!

There is a huge divide in the United States right now. We’re fighting over practically everything. One key issue in this ongoing conflict is how to best distribute limited goods and services. Arguments on both sides are passionate and persuasive. Probably the most contentious issue is healthcare. Liberals believe that the free market is not good at making sure healthcare is distributed fairly. Many conservatives would take issue with the idea of fairness entering into the equation at the distribution level at all. If you’re reading this you’ve probably invested some mental effort in understanding your own beliefs about this issue and the web of issues surrounding it. Although it would be fun to delve into all of those things, give impassioned and reasonable arguments concluding that my way is the right way or whatever, that is not what today’s exercise is about. I want to think differently about government distribution vs. market distribution.

Turning over one fifth of the nation’s economy to the government on a whim, or even as an experiment, seems a little nuts, but what if we could pre-test the hypothesis that government can do it better? For the moment we’re going to leave aside failed socialist states, and assume as liberal orthodoxy tells us, that they just did it wrong.

So let’s not use twenty percent, or two percent, or even two tenths of a percent of the economy. Let’s test the government’s ability to provide a single product at or above market efficiency. If they can do that, then perhaps they can take on something a little bigger, and we can eventually move to a completely state controlled market substitute. The key is picking something that is perceived as necessary, something that is very important to Americans, but, something that if it were to be completely mismanaged and we couldn’t get it at all, or we could only get it in Minnesota, or whatever travesty happened, we, as a country would still be all right.

I’m sitting in Starbucks right now, waiting for a new screen to be put on my iPhone, so I nominate coffee. Let’s let the government completely take over all the coffee business in the United States. Let the government decide how much we get to drink, where we can purchase and at what cost, what beans get imported and how they get roasted, etc. Now, if you own a coffee shop, even if you agree with my premise, which is the government will cock this up and maybe, just maybe America will get the point, you are saying ‘hell no!’ because the government would be coming in and messing with your livelihood. Imagine how the doctors feel.

But you’re right. We need buy in before we pick a product/service for the government to test their abilities on. (But haven’t they already with some healthcare, the military, the roads, education, space, and so on…yes, but repetition is the mother of learning.) So, we need to nominate 19 more products or services. That way Ms. Coffee shop owner only has a five percent chance of her industry being disrupted and is more likely to sign on to my grand experiment. Local governments are neck deep in regulating barbers and hair braiders and so on, so maybe haircare. Maybe breakfast cereal. I don’t know. We just pick them and get everyone to agree.

Once we have the product list it should be simple to get agreement. If you, as a liberal, believe that the government is going to be better at managing the health care industry than the market you should be all in. First, coffee, then cereal, then THE WORLD! If you’re conservative, and you’re sure that the government is going to botch this, you don’t want to sign because you like your coffee and Grape Nuts in the morning, but you realize that the lesson is worth the sacrifice. Plus, if you know it’s coming you can trade some of that gold you have stashed in your safe for a year’s supply of vacuum-packed coffee, and just ride it out. So the conservatives should agree.

There are only two hold outs that I can think of.  People who think governments do some things well, and some things poorly, and philosophical libertarians such as myself who think that even if they did it better, it doesn’t matter because it’s wrong. Since this is my rodeo I’ll sign on. I can’t speak for my fellow crazies, or for the people that look at the highway system, or NASA, or the military and see something that the market couldn’t create. I don’t understand them anyway, so speaking for them is beyond me.

It seems to me that at least eighty five percent of Americans should be behind this experiment and honestly interested in the results. There are problems. If the state knows this is a test they can throw massive resources at it, like cramming for a test, and they could ‘fool’ America in to thinking they were competent when they were not. But I’m not sure they would. Admitting, even to themselves, that they had to cheat to run coffee shops might put philosophical brakes on even the most progressive thinkers. The thought process might be something like, I know I had to cheat to win at tic-tac-toe, but I’m sure I can be a grand master at chess.  I hope that no one in power would think that way, although lately I’m not so sure.

The other problem, and one I’m willing to admit is at least possible, is maybe they’re good at it. Maybe coffee gets better under government regulation/control. Obviously I think this is unlikely, but if it were to turn out to be true I’d be willing to reexamine my thoughts. But I’m certain a third of the country wouldn’t, just as I’m sure that if it were a colossal failure a third of the country would say ‘they just didn’t do it right.’

Back Channel Communication

can you hear me now?
Early Back Channel Communication

The idea of certain people engaging in backchannel communications (BC) has been making the news lately. The practice has been made to sound very ‘spy vs. spy’ and something that is somehow distasteful. However, if you’ve ever asked your neighbor in a classroom what the professor just said, or ‘do you think that will be on the test?’ then you’ve engaged in backchannel communications. Like any tool, BC can be used an any number of ways and for many different purposes. Today I’d like to gather and share my thoughts on using BC in the classroom. The thoughts and practices I’ll be discussing have not (to the best of my knowledge, which is incomplete and almost certainly wrong) been empirically examined for effectiveness or systematically developed. They are an ad hoc collection that has been useful to me. I probably stole all of this from someone, and when I remember where it is from I’ll include that, but in most cases I’ve been doing this stuff for so long the origins have faded from my mind.

BC participation, Active, Passive, Asynchronous, and Non: Participation in BC communication, at least in my classes is voluntary. Some individuals prefer to focus their attention on one thing at a time, others are unable to multitask in this way. That’s OK. If there is something important in the BC they can always look it up later, a practice known as asynchronous BC, a term I just made up and am quite proud of. Some students may prefer to log in to a platform and just read what happens without comment. This passive participation, also called lurking, seems to help some students maintain focus on what is happening in the class. Finally, some students may choose to engage in BC by making comments, asking and answering questions, and upvoting or downvoting other questions and comments.

The use of BC during Q & A: This one comes directly from the people who developed iCorps. When people are pitching business ideas in front of an iCorps panel any instructor is free to ask a question. However, there is typically one instructor assigned to do a deep dive on understanding each business being presented, and that person leads the questioning. iCorps uses the text messaging tool Slack to ‘feed’ questions to the primary interrogator (sounds scary, and it feels scary when you’re being shot gunned with questions, but that is part of the purpose of the practice). This helps the overall process in a few important ways. First, the interrogator doesn’t run out of questions before Q & A time is up. Second, it is often easier for the business person (or victim—just kidding)  to respond to the same instructor repeatedly instead of keeping a bunch of names straight. Third, people don’t step on each other verbally. And finally, when presented with a large que of questions, the person who has done the deep dive can weed out irrelevant or less important questions to maximize the learning experience for the business person. This is a flipped version of learner to learner BC below.

Learner to learner (private) BC: Any method of communication that includes you and your fellow learners, but not the teacher, falls into this category. Quite often team organization apps become impromptu BC’s in a classroom setting. On one hand, this is great because it self organizes. However, there is usually no channel for the entire class. Getting the entire class on one platform and creating a channel for everyone solves this problem. If it is important, due to the situation or student preference that the instructor not be involved in the BC, a student can create a channel and share with everyone but the instructor. This sort of a channel with no oversight will empower some students to ‘speak up’ where they otherwise would not, and might end in great conversations in some classes. There is a greater risk of bullying and other non-socially acceptable behavior however. Students in this sort of group should self-monitor and try to keep on topic, otherwise, the value of the BC will be diminished.

Inclusive BC’s: All skate. Everyone can see everyone’s comments and questions, including the instructor. This seems to be the most common use of BC products in the classroom. It has many advantages, and very few problems, at least in my limited experience. Typically, most if not all comments are ‘aimed’ at the instructor, but often if something is asked and a student can quickly answer, they do, leaving more time for other topics. If a question resonates with students, they retweet it, upvote it, or ask it again so that the instructor can see in real time where there are gaps in understanding, or where new topics need to be introduced. I’ve heard that when this is set up anonymously some professors have had behavior problems but I’ve never experienced it. Also, although I don’t do it, if you use a platform that attaches identities to students, BC activity could be factored into a participation score.

BC Platforms: Just about any platform can be used as a class BC. I’ve used Facebook Messenger in the past and it works pretty well. Students can have their own team chat, a group chat without me, and a chat with me in it that I put up on the projector for everyone to see, whether or not they are personally logged in to it. I’ve been thinking of experimenting with Twitter, but so far haven’t. I’ve used Chatzy as an anonymous platform, and I’ve heard good things about Socrative. I’m looking into GoSoapBox as well, primarily because it has a feature called a confusion barometer. That sounds pretty neat to me. I’m still looking for a simple, easy to use, free, classroom tool with some sort of upvoting feature. But I might find a unicorn first, and then, hey, I’d have a unicorn so I’d probably be out all day riding it and not teaching.

Final Thoughts: Here is a short list of suggestions for using BC’s as a student.

  1. Stay on topic.
  2. In private BC’s if you must stray from the topic be as succinct as possible.
  3. If it’s been said and you agree, upvote instead of restating (if you have that capability)
  4. Refrain from downvoting unless a comment or question is inappropriate or off topic. Remember, just because it’s not important to you doesn’t mean it’s not important.
  5. Remember, the internet is forever. Even if your platform is supposed to be private it only takes a second for a screenshot.
  6. Anonymity is not an excuse to be an ass.
  7. If this (or any) tool enhances your learning, use it. If not, don’t.