Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stop Being Stupid

During staff week at Camp Interlaken one summer in the mid-1990's, our director related a story of an old director he worked for who said two things, after all the work of opening camp was done: "Have fun. Don't be stupid."

Bob Herbert's December 26th column

echoes this sentiment. On every subject but me, I've been meditating on that mantra ever since. In retrospect at least, I've been Bob Herberting myself after a multitude of choices.

Here's to a 2009 with less stupid in advance.

Happy New Year.

"Televandalists" and other copycoinage

Fine, there's a band. I didn't know that until three minutes ago. I "coined" the term in response to my friend Sandy, who bragged about writing on everyone's Facebook walls as her New Year's greeting. The act of scrawling on someone's virtual space should have a better name than spamming, or trolling even.

If you don't like it, ephough. That was almost me too, although there's apparently someone called that on FIQL. ? She never posted, though. If you manage to dig up this post and buy the domain before I do, I hope you liked what you read.

Last night, my non-TV-watching friend reminded me again that "TV will kill your brain." My response:

"Overachiever. UnderTVer."

I got that one.

The 700 Club

It's nothing to brag about, but I'm 10 Facebook friends away from 700. I do know most of them, really. And I'm pretty sure most of them actually know me. One claims she must know me, given the other friends I'd mentioned having in college.

As I (re)start blogging, tweeting, and continue facebooking, I contemplate the read-worthiness of This. What percentage of my 700 will make This club?

When I passed 300, I mused about a potential social project. I would contact each of my Facebook friends one day of the year. If I had not heard back from them within a month, I would de-friend them. What would be the point? I chalk that project's non-start up to a combination of laziness and anti-hubris. Who would I be to demand their response? Then again, I do get to choose. Always.

Now that I've doubled that mark, I shudder to think of the effort. Still, one-a-day can't be any worse than taking vitamins.

I'll add it to the list of resolutions. Tomorrow, I here I come!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In response to "How to Embrace Change"

My response to the recent post:

For one, I can stop self-layering, and hesitating. I’m constantly committing the “knowing the outcome” sin; if I do it to myself, you can bet I’m doing it to my kids. Thank you for this post, PM!

I love D.U.’s Anais Nin reference, to the necessary blossoming, but I love even more the W.E.B. Du Bois quote. It reminds me of a line in one of my favorite poems of all time, Trees, by Howard Nemerov:

“To stand for the constant presence of process
And always to seem the same;”

“The” leap is really a series of leaps, is it not? It is less the landing point than the act of leaping itself that ensures our constant spryness. To keep leaping, to BE the leap we wish to see, as it were. As I was born February 29th, I feel qualified enough. As always, the process, not the product.

For the hometown fans, by the way, Howard Nemerov taught at Wash U in St. Louis.

Us: Designed Obsolescence?

In plumbing the depths of my past academic submissions for nuggets on which to expound here, I found and have begun tearing apart my "brief" philosophy of education, which I titled "Within His Reach," after a line in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile. As it turns out, "plumbing" is a fairly apt word to describe the place shit travels. In groveling to that high-school-standardized-essay idol of pouring the first paragraph through an initially wide funnel into the thesis statement, I discovered that yes, I committed that hubristic sin of opening with something horrifically, glacially broad, in my case: "Since the days when the first humans lived in caves..." In its defense, however, I remind myself that Plato's Republic served on the panel of texts for that paper's course; is a cave reference in an education treatise so out of place?

Dwelling so on the housing and other living conditions of our cousins-so-many-times-removed, the opening paragraph mused about those aging hunters in the tribe who recognized their impending mortality. They would need to sum up everything they'd learned and transmit it, mostly orally, before they died. In roughly thirty to forty years, if they were lucky. If you've ever read about the Lascaux paintings and what the caves were like before they were excavated for study, you can appreciate the inaccessible rarity of permanence in the mass media of the day. What opposite times we now occupy, where the whole of human knowledge (and a fair amount of other sludge) slowly creeps toward a singularity of storage and access; and where our industrially-prolonged physical existences challenge the immediacy of passing anything along. We live longer and need to instruct less -- in effect, carving out a smaller role for ourselves as elders of a tribe with a diminishing need for our cerebrally-stored expertise.

What then, do we do with this extra time? And do we abdicate entirely our role as "elders" in the tribe? When we succeed in getting everything onto Wikipedia, and everyone onto their own blog, what then? Has it been a generations-long conspiracy to return to adolescence, only with golf clubs? Or is it a deliberate and noble pursuit to free up the additional decades it will require us as teachers and our offspring as students just to sift through all that "knowledge?"

What does the imminent collapse of our economy and the likely demise of the social safety net as WE ("we," the kids who watched The Day After, who saw Yeltsin dissolve the Soviet Union in a bath of vodka, who saw The Wall and then saw it crumble) knew it growing up mean about our own old age? Will we have nothing to do, or everything? Will we have to look up the symptoms of Alzheimer's on the Wiki and self-diagnose?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gestures of Weakness

Does this act of vandalism even deserve the moniker "gesture?"

Cf. "Stop Being Stupid" above. Are the Temple Sholom families lucky that school was out this week? Or is a 2AM firebomb hurled at the outside of a synagogue a calculatedly small act? It will and must get rapid and diffuse coverage. Sadly for their PR effort, the bomber did not leave his URL at the scene.

(Originally posted on Facebook)

Andrew Osborn on our 2010 Collapse

Personally, I think Professor Panarin's prediction is probably premature, but perhaps not impossibly prescient. Obviously not the first. Isn't 2010 awfully close to 2012, the supposed year of the Rapture, the Mayan apocalypse, and also the beginning of the Age of Aquarius?

Arthur C. Clarke thought 2010 might be "The Year We Make Contact." In this economy, if it's the year we make contacts, at least somebody will be manufacturing something.

My thought was, according to his map, I might actually end up better off.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Getting Aggressive About Passive Houses

In 2005 and 2006 I interviewed George Sullivan, a Chicago-based architect bullishly determined to remake midwestern homes more energy-efficient, without all the silly trappings of past eco-movements, such as solar panels. At least not in the Midwest, where the most important factor in energy cost is insulation.

Ears here aren't entirely deaf to passive homes. They just need the volume turned up.

Visit George's company page at

Hawks and Hawkish Fans

I awoke with conviction that I had something useful to post today. Last night's Blackhawks game was postworthy: I was part of the regular-season record-setting crowd of 22,712 who witnessed their record-tying eighth straight victory. I suggest that playoff ticket holders consider me as a companion - I've never seen them lose. For all I ignore hockey, I enjoy watching it. Not only were two goals scored in the opening two minutes, but they pummeled Philly. 38 shots on goal to 17. In my view, they won all three fights.

The last Blackhawk game I attended was during the first Gulf War, when the tradition of madly cheering through the entire national anthem was born. I'm not sure I understand the meaning of drowning out the singer, but they've held onto the tradition for seventeen years now, who is anyone to question it -- much less, a ritual seemingly steeped in a questionless broth of bravado and loyalty. This crowd might still cheer President Bush if he skated out onto center ice with a "Mission Accomplished" banner on his back.

I don't mean it derisively. Entirely. The majority of fans wore their Hawks jerseys. Politeness abounded. Cheers of "Detroit sucks!!!" echoed through the stadium, despite the evening's opponent being Philadephia. Unlike any of the other sports, and mostly like the theater, ushers make spectators wait to re-enter the stands until a stoppage of play. They wear dapper vests and hold "Stop" signs.

None of this is terribly post-worthy for me, other than the ability of Hawks fans to hold onto tradition and ritual, even through terrible times.

I can't wax too romantic about Hawks hope, though, since I only see a game during a war with Iraq.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Me 2.0

I've been given professional advice from a career educator and administrator that this might be a good idea. We'll see. What better time, though, to start (again) my blog - the day so many Westerners sort through everything new they've just received and decide what they officially don't want. If I can keep it up for five whole days, I'll be ready when they simultaneously decide to try something new, again. Maybe my 2.0 will meet their 2.0 and exchange URL's.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) published "Greyfields into Goldfields" in 2002, and followed with "Malls into Mainstreets" in 2006. They layout plans to reshape these vast suburban wastelands (which are already nicely graded, paved, and hooked up to municipal utilities) into new, vibrant urban nodes.

This All Things Considered story (aired 12/10/2008) about remaking Tyson's Corner, VA sits at the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion.

I would like to hear a followup to that encourages listeners to think of ALL "conventional" mallspaces as having this sort of long-range potential, for towns of ALL sizes. My friend Josh replied that the mayor (of the neighboring township) interviewed in this article "sounds like a total dipshit..." for wanting to "have a voice" in (i.e., complain about) such planning deliberations.

If you sit in your own shit long enough, Ms. Mayor, you forget that it stinks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Hope of a New Generation

Shayna and I are looking at Facebook pictures of our friends' babies.
After we're done with one set, I ask (mostly to myself), "Lets see, who else does Shayna know?"

She points to a picture in the ad column and says, "I know Barack Obama!"

I don't know if the world or the neighborhood will be better off at the end of President Obama's first or even second term, but I feel good that she's rooting for him. I hope he's rooting for her. I sure am. She deserves a better place to inherit.

(Originally posted on Facebook)