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Death panels vs. death squads

June 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Death squads work under cover of darkness, kidnapping and killing, robbing people of their lives and inspiring terror among the people.

Death panels have official sanction to take and ruin lives. They meet in government buildings with Orwellian agendas posted at the door.

I had thought that the Senate committee crafting the new health care bill was a death panel.

But to the degree that citizens are demoralized, broken in spirit, by a new health care law, I was wrong.

The Senate committee is a death squad, operating in darkness, stealing peole’s lives, spreading fear and destruction across the land.

Or so it seems today.

Truth driven underground, voices rise up

June 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Society drives a portion of the truth about itself underground, and people create an alternate pathway for that truth as best they can. Both of those ideas are worth studying. How does a society like ours silence and drown out voices, stories, facts, understandings, truths? And how to people find a work-around, and with what kinds of success?

The silence of the citizen

June 20, 2017 Leave a comment

A little theory about the weakness of our democracy.

Silence is the basic mode of a citizen, largely unallied with others, having no regular civic audience, skilled in no form of public address, possessing no reliable stream of information or one so contested and poisoned and vexed as to be more problem than aid, susceptible to cynicism or despair or indifference or fear every moment that is not spent laboring or consuming entertainment or tending the beautiful or bare walled garden of the private life.

Watching the Trustees at work

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Summary: The university’s Trustee governance structure works on a management model that doesn’t seek a lot of input from students, faculty, or the voting public. 

For the first time I attended all the open or public* sessions of the Trustees of Indiana University over the two days of their June meeting, held this time on the South Bend campus. Much good work was introduced and approved there, including new buildings and renovations of older buildings, improvements to programs, that sort of thing. There was an admirable, positive spirit of public service throughout, and I was pleased to have witnessed it.

As a faculty member, I noticed, though, that faculty voices and roles were not very much in evidence. (I think faculty spoke for about ten minutes over the course of the two days of meetings.) Thinking further about that, I noticed that student voices, though present, were also not much involved through most of the two days. (There is, though, one elected Trustee who is a student, as required by the structure of the governance of IU, and that Trustee seemed very capable. That Trustee was, however, perhaps among the quieter members of the nine-person group.) Thinking further, I realize that the general public was not a speaking presence at this meeting, though I believe there are sometimes protests at these sessions.**

What does that mean? Impressed as I was by what I saw, I walk away realizing that this is a management system and not, say, a collaborative system or a democratic system.
Whether or not the university’s future would be improved by the voices of faculty, or students, or the general public, this particular two-day meeting did not look very much in that direction. The university is managed, it seems–often, I thought, managed well***–but managed in a way that minimizes the input of three vital groups: students, faculty, the voting and tax-paying public. If those groups want to have an impact on the governance of the state’s leading public university (sorry, Purdue), they can’t rely on the normal format of a Trustees meeting to make that happen. Fair enough, and point taken.

____________________

*The Sunshine Laws, as they are called, for Indiana, leave room for the Trustees to have some private meetings, and two sessions last week were closed, each amounting to about an hour. Possibly, though, these were just the lunch breaks for the group–not sure.

**There was a microphone stand set up in the public seating area, but there was never an invitation to those attending to use it. There was also a press table, often occupied, but no invitation for the press to ask questions during the two-day meeting either. I don’t know if this is typical or not.

***One item for future consideration, mentioned in passing, seemed quite wrong-headed to me. It was, however, the kind of management-oriented proposal that will not be thoughtfully considered unless those largely-missing voices are heard, I believe.

The decay of the open Web

November 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Hossein Derakhshan@h0d3r –has just published an essay that is very specific about the nature of activism, free speech, hyperlinks, and blogging, and also about the stakes for all of us in the way the Web has evolved away from the openness we knew about a decade ago. Like other important pieces of writing, his essay implies a theory of healthy and unhealthy society. A healthy society is a Web-like weYour Voiceb of voices and institutions and texts with hyperlink-like connections that thinking, feeling people make and remake together. The tools in our possession make this easier or harder or impossible to do. A former political prisoner recently released, the writer has stepped out of a time machine, in effect, to discover that the necessary tools have eroded while he was away. Please consider “The Web We Have to Save” and write about it. He considers the responses and his follow-up thinking on his website, too.

PS. A few days later, for the 25th anniversary of the first web page, I added this on Facebook: The ability to publish without a printing press, to link to the words of others, to collaborate with readers and writers around the world, to respond on your own terms and in your own time to important events that you have witnessed, to affiliate yourself with kindred spirits you have never met, to innovate with technology so that other forms of creativity have new ways to grow, to reach for a more meaningful democracy…all owe a debt on this anniversary. And all at risk of being taken back to one degree or another.

PPS. And early in the new year Dave Winer continued this discussion with “It’s time to care about the open web.”

Indiana’s “So That Happened” Moment

April 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Facebook thinks NPR-affiliate WVPE hosts a spam website, I guess, so I have to ask you to click this link to read or hear the essay on Indiana’s walk of shame this spring.

The text and audio are here–please click.

Progress continues

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Progress continues

The effort to make a writer’s Facebook postings also save (or update) to a WordPress blog is moving ahead. Dave Winer’s Little Facebook Editor is testing the concept, and this post was composed on the current version of that software.

I like this approach a lot. Why should a writer contribute to a web service like Facebook without having the ability to save a copy of any serious pieces to a backup site or even another public site? If it is difficult to save your web postings, then a company like Facebook is essentially urging us to throw them away after a quick use. But what we write on the web can be more useful and more important than that. This new software is working out the practicalities of a better way.

If you want to give it a test drive:

http://facebook.smallpict.com/2014/08/25/postingToWordpressAndFacebook.html

Milosz on genres of witness

March 10, 2014 Leave a comment

One of the great witnesses of the past century, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, explained in this way the importance of individual voices and traces of particular lives:

Unless we can relate it to ourselves personally, history will always be more or less an abstraction and its content the clash of impersonal forces and ideas. Although generalizations are necessary to order this vast, chaotic material, they kill the individual detail that tends to stray from the schema. Doubtless every family archive that perishes, every account book that is burned, every effacement of the past reinforces classifications and ideas at the expense of reality. Afterwards all that remains of entire centuries is a kind of popular digest.      —Czeslaw Milosz, Native Realm

Genres of witness might include the essay (not the school essay) and some kinds of blogging.

A Cemetery Walk on a Snowy Day with Lou Kelly

February 15, 2014 Leave a comment

LK BW3cIf you had known her as a child, maybe you would have called her Louise as it says on her birth certificate. But I doubt Lou has let anyone call her Louise since Franklin Roosevelt was president. She is 92 now, retired for a quarter of a century. Before that, she was the kind of teacher who would look up into the faces of the university’s least domesticated football and basketball players and tell them to get their lives in order and to take their educations seriously. And when students were serious, she would help them accomplish any worthy goal.

I was visiting for the day. After a nice lunch out, we drove in the country, then toured the town’s landmarks—the great bookstore, the peaceful river that raged through the heart of campus just a few years ago, even the town’s hilltop cemetery, where a huge bronze statue of a black angel has drooped its wings over a certain grave for a century. Our conversation leaped about in time—back to the decades of teaching and ahead to her planned flight out to California to see those beloved creatures she calls her grand-younguns. Lou mentioned her frustration that the university had recently changed her name on the retired faculty list to Louise. In the snowy cemetery I remembered the way she taught writing.

Lou believed that young people who reflected on their memories and values in writing would be in a better position to succeed in life. Talk to me on paper, she would say to her student writers.  Tell me what you’ve seen, tell me who you want to be. It was as though she was saying to each of them, I want to be called Lou.  Now you tell me who you are and what you want to be called.

Beyond the Black Angel, in a new section of the cemetery, Lou pointed out a large stone some distance from the road. She was determined to take a look, and I knew the power of her determination, so I offered her my arm. She held her cane in the other hand, and we headed into the snow and the rows of stones.

It was a highly polished black stone, about four feet tall, with the large portrait of a smiling man etched in gold on it, and his name and the words “Iowa’s First All-American Swimmer.” The thing was not so much gaudy as it was just plain odd and distracting. It bothered Lou because this was just inches from where her own stone would someday be. How is a visitor going to attend to her name and her memory with this crazy stone right there?

We turned and walked carefully along the rows. She was looking for a stone that might hold its own next to the black thing, something distinctive and substantial, maybe even a small sculpture that would someday proclaim, on her behalf, “This is who I was.” So we were, I realized, shopping for tombstones. I turned and said, “Lou, I’ll bet you a nickel that today you are the only 92 year old in all of North America taking a 100-yard cross-country hike in the snow.” She laughed her big laugh, and agreed. Back in the car, I cranked up the heater. We put the cemetery behind us, and conversation turned to her hopes for great-grand-younguns. That evening, as my visit drew to a close, Lou settled into the armchair by her bay window and watched the sun, which she loves, redden brilliantly through the trees.

Broadcast on 88.1 WVPE by Ken Smith on February 18, 2011.

School essays and the other kind

February 2, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m reading early drafts of short essays written for an English class. They are fine and will grow in revision, so I’m not worried. But they bring to mind the contrast between school essays and the great tradition of the essay as a literary form.

School essays show a teacher that a student was paying attention lately in class and often enough over the years to cough up a credible account of something. The credibility comes from obeying the formal school rules and proving you know the basics about the assigned topic. Nothing new is required. No fresh contact with the world of experience, no new ripples in the ocean of ideas. The product is fabricated in familiar ways out of pre-approved materials. If you succeed, you have gone a step further in earning your journeyman card in whatever trade you will someday pursue.

Essays in the literary tradition invent their own organization on a case-by-case basis. They count as evidence whatever the writer can persuade us counts as evidence. They generally take a closer look at an experience we tend to take for granted, and they see something new there that has implications in the ocean of ideas. They don’t have the last word about anything, though, because they aren’t pulling rank. They do persuade, however, because their sentences cut through common sense, cliché, and preconception to something fresh. It’s almost impossible to write this kind of essay without giving a reader a sense of who you are and how you think and feel, and so these essays are full of personality when they are done, as a side effect of doing the real work of the essay.

The two kinds of essays are profoundly different from each other. Nobody expects a school essay to be read again after the teacher has graded it. A literary essay, however, can remain alive for centuries.