Bob Schieffer's America

I just finished Bob Schieffer's America, a great book of his CBS commentaries that's wrapping up the tail end of my summer of reading. Among many interesting anecdotes, such as early video bootlegging, where reporters got a movie into a cassette form while in the middle of nowhere then watched it on their editing equipment, or the time he formed an "exploratory committee" for the hell of it and was sent $200, including a dollar with strings literally attached, was something I had never thought of before.

Before the equality of the sexes was any sort of value in this country, when women lacked legal protections against harassment and unfair hiring practices, there were two viable career paths that allowed for independence: nursing and teaching. Thus all of the women most interested in working were competition for a limited set of jobs, which meant that nurses and teachers came from the elite of half the country's population. And, because of wage inequities, the hospitals and schools didn't cost too much either.

It doesn't justify what happened, but perhaps the hale we find ourselves in in regards to education and healthcare is based more on expectations than reality. (which is not to say that we can and should *really* improve on these fronts.)

Beep Beep, work being done

Fresh from asking someone else about their blog (which uses Wordpress to manage content, a system I like), I took a quick look at my own layout and I think it could use some work.

But Blogger gets major tips for allowing me to list pages on the top. In any case, this will be a work in progress for a few days, so please pardon the mess as I experiment.

Problem on Facebook - possible hack


Facebook News Feeds are getting taken over by a site that publishes, without warning, a story on your wall whenever you click the link in News Feed as "Will Slack likes (whatever you clicked)."

So, for example, I saw a friend from church camp on my news feed with a very non-church camp link "liked," which I clicked on, thinking that I had to be misunderstanding.

Nope, it then went up on my profile and he saw it on HIS newsfeed from me, as me liking it. Facebook needs to stop this ASAP.

Whereever you are for the next three months....

...just remember you aren't stuck in a Chilean mine with 32 dudes.

Travel (expanded from elsewhere)

My advice:

You should travel. You should get lost on rainy French roads, in waterlogged French fields, and amidst dark French forests, seeking a small towns while soaked through. You should see rooms made entirely of porcelain in Spain, coming from an apartment where the market is across the street, with fresh bread every morning. You should gasp at the sunlit splendor of Sainte-Chapelle, then enjoy a baguette and crepe in Place des Voghes. You should take the buses of Copenhagen, which children ride alone starting at age eight. You should see the ancient boulders at Stonehenge and the ancient chamber at Newgrange, and the cathedral that was never finished in Aalst. You should feel your heart pound as you see the fortresses that are police stations in Belfast, and feel your heart sour within the labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral. You should celebrate New Years with a little fire in Saint Peter's Square and get lost with a middle aged woman in the middle of a red-light district you didn't see on the maps.

Or maybe not. The above is what I've had the privilege to do, thanks to funding, fund-raising, family, and friends, but travel is about making your own experiences.

You should go somewhere else, and still find a home there because you have carried a home with you, because you are a self-contained person. There is nothing like sitting outside a window on a French hilltop, waiting for the bullet-train to speed by, alone with the world, and yet connected to a brand new part of it. Go forth!

From the links: Bush Campaign Chief and Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman comes out

My feeling is that the "responsible" side of the GOP is getting very close to a tipping point where they know they can't use anti-gay rage to get votes without being fundamentally dishonest and hurtful to people they know. The DC establishment knew (or suspected) his guy was gay for a while, but he's not going to be like Cheney and stay silent on the issue - he's coming out now in prep for helping national advocacy groups.

I know and love members of my family who do not feel that acting on the "wrong" sexual orientation is ok, and I don't think they are bad people for thinking so. Good people do bad things, and this is an easy bias, because all it requires is that we assume everyone to have our own orientation, which is different than assuming a false difference in status because of race or sex. I am attracted to women exclusively; pretending and acting otherwise would be a sin. I await the day that the Christian establishment (though there shouldn't be one, at least not for baptists) comes to its senses and realizes that the Bible isn't in conflict with natural homosexuality (which I believe), or just ignores those passages (which is more likely, as was the case with slavery).

Forcing people to live a fake life is wrong. The web is replete with stories of gays who have suffered from their own inborn prejudices as they discover their "unnatural" sexual orientation, and who have gone through hell trying to "right" themselves. Forcing people to actions that God doesn't want for them is horrible.

So, how was my Summer?

Life at during a year at college can be tracked by the seasons, but also by the topic-of-the-month.
  • Early fall: How was your summer/what did you do?
  • Mid fall: How're midterms treating you? / What are you doing for Winter Study?
  • Late fall: The weather: snow or the lack thereof.
  • Winter Study: Hey, let's go do .
  • Early Spring: How was your Winter Study?
  • Mid-Spring: Spring Break/Major/Thesis queries.
  • Late Spring: Summer plans and melancholy.
I love these conversations because they are instant small talk whenever you need it, but they can get a tad repetitive. Thus, for all of those people who know me well enough to read this, I grant you freedom from asking (though there are stories I won't be posting publicly you should ask me about :P )

Summer started off at Williams, where I moved to Dodd house (my own bathroom, but the shower only works if you're under 5'7"), and worked Commencement and Reunions. The key part: I got to eat during the intermediate time, so it was a chance to de-stress from exams, go talk to some profs I hadn't had time to see, and hang out with those seniors not at Hilton Head.

Then came commencement, where I was in the baccalaureate choir with some dear friends I hope to cross paths with sometime later in life, but also on staff as an "usher." I was asked to help out Dean Merrill, so I got to carry the giant prize-notebook around (and the temptation to read it) and generally worry about any other details at Ivy Exercises. Baccalaureate saw me walking around in a search for doorstops to keep Chapin's door open (it was rather warm), and then a surprised me trying to put on a choir robe in 15 seconds, which didn't quite work.

Commencement was inside (may that not happen to us, knock on wood), and I had the duty of standing near the stage to pass messages up and down. That job wasn't needed for the past few years, but with the tragedy in Europe, I had to pass things up to Dean Merrill several times, though I didn't know the context. Another student was injured, and I spent part of the rest of the day with her brother, whose composure was praiseworthy. The rest of my summer will follow in another post.


I just got a phone upgrade, and aside from the inevitable buyer's remorse that it's not military certified to survive a war zone (which I didn't need), my only other bug is the weak vibrate function. I used my old phone's vibrate exclusively, because it was much more versatile than a ring:
  • When I was lying down and wanted the phone to wake me up, I put it on a hard, rattling surface that would make a lot of noise if anyone called.
  • When I was in class, the sound was automatically muffled by my pocket and leg.
  • When I needed to find it, the buzz was loud enough to be heard a few feet away as I searched.
But now, my feature-laden phone's weak/soft vibrate means I have to choose a real ringtone. Grumph.

And random: Adobe doesn't allow you to combine PDFs unless you buy Acrobat. So now, a bunch of web services do it for free when Adobe could offer the service and get the ad money. There's an economic lesson in there somewhere.

Depressed about the world

My relationship with mankind (I'm sorry, humankind just sounds awkward) seems to be a bit of a roller coaster. On the one hand, I can have a marvelous vacation without spending a huge amount of money, and taking advantage of the marvelous infrastructure built up in this country, but on the other, I wonder how much the current situation differs from the current direction. (and for that matter, about the acceleration and jerk as well)

Friedman was right in 2008 and he's right now: this country has lost its way. We cry for lower taxes (R)/more spending (D) while we continue to borrow. We continue to buy junk food, and obesity isn't getting better. We treat our enemies as if they were Nazi Germany (with huge resources), and simply create more enemies with our policies.

For example: the Imam in charge of the 9/11 community center said that US policies were an "accessory" to 9/11. Accessory has a few meanings, but people balked at any idea that we could have possibly deserved such horror while missing the point that reasons and causes are different than justifications.

Let's say that you are at a bar and you get into a fight , then the person you were fighting follows you home and shoots your spouse. Is that person a murderer? YES. Is it their fault? YES. Did the fight you were in have something to do with it? ALSO YES.

In fact, I'd call the fight an "accessory" to the murder, because without it, the murder would not have occurred. That doesn't justify the murder, but it can help us to understand that getting into future fights might be a bad idea. It's a very imperfect comparison, but understanding the root causes of something should never be seen as justification.

So I'm a little depressed. Whoever out there thinks Obama is Muslim needs to do some research - it's a pity that with so much information available, so many of all political opinions still choose not to think.


A brief Facebook chat with an acquaintance about "trolls" got me thinking: what is the value in online discussion and debate with people I don't know too well?

The dishonest answer is that I'm honing my thinking and logic skills for future debates and discussions, but I think what's really going on is two-layered. First, I think there's a subconscious need to have or seek a "right" answer: now that I've formed a fairly cogent (though oft changing) worldview, but that I can only improve it by taking my arguments to the shed and see who can beat up on them.  This is fed with things I post on other sites. Second, though, I think I enjoy putting my ideas out there - that they have worth and value to a discussion, no matter what sort of stuff I respond to, and that something positive can come out of their presentation to a reader.

But is feeling good justification for doing this? Is this really the best sort of entertainment?


Thoughts from my reading

1. Those who would use propaganda should be wary of what happens when the ideas they sponsor become more authoritative than they are.

2. Absolute levels of well-being (which philosophers focus on) are different than relative levels of well-being (which our emotions focus on) are different than trends in well-being (which planners focus on) are different than accelerations of well-being (which academics focus on) are different than the jerks of well-being, who everyone ignores. Politicians choose whichever supports their position.

3. The comfort of feeling that one's cause is absolutely right feels worse than the fear that one's cause might be wrong, but the former gets many more people killed.

Stand With Us: my memory and regret

I was a leader in the Williams "Stand With Us" movement, which seemed to be a coalescing of opinions and feelings that had been long-felt but not acted upon. The group formed at Williams in the February of my freshman year, and successfully put on a rally/march + a day called "Claiming Williams" the next year. I was a leader of the third subgroup of SwU, which unsuccessfully sought to create student-generated community standards instead of relying on the Dean's Office for those rules. However, fears about thought crime and harsh punishments for un-PC speech stifled my groups efforts, which taught me a huge deal about leadership and communication.

The events were catalyzed by what was written on the door of a frosh in Willy E, next door, but were much more tied to long-standing patterns and emotions that provided the impetus for the organization. One of Stand With Us's biggest issues, as I saw it, was that the larger campus never heard much (or realized much) about the long-standing emotions, and only saw a bunch of students and faculty getting riled up about a word written by some drunk dude on a door.

So from the start, Stand With Us was understood very differently by those inside and outside of it. The meeting that established the shared feelings of those within the movement was on a Wednesday night. I had conflicts, but ultimately chose not to go because I didn't think much would come of the meeting. Instead, I heard the next day that students had talked and shared for over three hours about their pain and feelings about how this college treated some of them as second-class, in a way. These feelings were sometimes caused subtlety - a look of suspension, a dismissive comment, or a bothersome policy for financial aid kids, but also had occasional and rare explicit causes: words shouted in a dining hall, graffiti on a door, and other thing documented by the MCC.

That first meeting was more than enough to establish intra-group legitimacy: there was never a question after that that Stand With Us wasn't responding to a real, tangible problem affecting many students. The problem was that that legitimacy didn't extend to outside of the group, and to an extent, didn't a extend to me. I saw first hand the passion of so many student leaders, and I knew that whatever was causing them to act, their feelings weren't shallow or opportunistic - this was a real passion.

The problem was that after that first meeting, there really wasn't much said about what had caused those feelings. I spent hours on WSO arguing for Stand With Us on faith - faith that these feelings had real causes based in our dynamics on campus, even though I didn't see the causes for such frustration for myself. I heard a few things, sure, about a time when some Ephs crossed the street to avoid walking by another student wearing "gangster" clothing, but nothing that really justified what was going on around me. Yet, I knew it was justified, and treated it as such. And through all of the Stand With Us saga, continued to assume the justification. I don't think I ever really understood all of the causes for the feelings and emotions. Perhaps that was impossible.

But Stand With Us acted as if it was easy - as if anyone with a modestly functioning brain could see a culture of "hatred and indifference," and that those who didn't were negligently ignorant as "indifferent." That turned a lot of people off, and was part of a "with us or against us" dynamic that caused me to choose not to follow the march. After it, students spoke to me about how uncomfortable they had felt as marchers came into their common rooms and study spaces, inviting them to make a statement they couldn't identify with, but with an implicit judgment on those who were "indifferent." People don't like being identified as bad, and reacted defensively, turning what should have been a universal stance against bigotry into a divisive campus issue with two sides arguing over WSO and dinner tables alike.

Even worse, some reacted by saying that the feelings and emotions of SwU members were flawed or false, an attack on validity that caused more heightened emotions as people felt attacked for an emotion they didn't want to have in the first place. SwU members were described as "looking for a battlefield" and choosing Williams to fight national issues that supposedly weren't present here. In focusing on the overreaction's illegitimacy, many forgot that there had to be some reason, somewhere, for so many to care so much. But there wasn't a lot of talking about this - just an assumption on one side that the justifications were obvious and on the other that they were invented.

And so the fracture continued, and never healed. Those of both perspectives continue to this day, I think, with the same feelings on the group and what it did, and I find that to be unfortunate. Stand With Us was a huge learning opportunity - I found out how much names matter in defining what a policy proposal is - but we squandered this chance to understand each other, and instead assumed that those with opposite opinions were deficient. I don't know how I could have fixed this, or even if it should or could have been fixed by me, but I do regret it deeply.

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