Thursday, May 22, 2014

Acid Blog, Stupid Yankee University

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

If you want to be on an upward curve, just make some time for it, and make it a habit. That's all there is to it. It doesn't matter if you're trying to get better at programming, or math, or fitness, or flying kites, or even humanity's Number One Fear, even worse than the fear of Death: public speaking. You just work your way up, a little at a time.
Stevey Yegge, (see footnote)

Hey, I feel entitled to be self-indulgent, because today is another milestone: Having just filled up another administrator’s page of 25 lines of weekly essay titles, it’s once again time to “take stock;” and, besides writing about a stupid university, I’m entitled to self-indulgently blog about little old me.

This Blog of Five Years
Believing, as Stevey does, in an “upward curve,” I am grimly satisfied that an old post is becoming far less controversial: I had written with acid in my ink that blogs were fading in popularity: Fading fast is the feverish activity where many folk would never read but only skim—“all the quicker to comment, my dear.” The fever has broken. Now, when people have time for cool second thoughts, I think it’s becoming clear that many blogs today are getting fewer “viewers” in total than they once had in “comments” alone. We now know those blogs were attracting “skimmers” who, to paraphrase good coaches and teachers, “only got out from the page what their eyes had skimmed in.” Too bad the fever has lasted so long, long past the time-window for getting thoughtful print-lovers engaged in the wonders of the Internet. Folks with library cards have turned away.

As for me, not writing for fevered brains, and not writing for Search Engine Optimization, SEO, means I don’t choose to put in links. Maybe I’m too stubborn; maybe, if only I would link, I could have been rich and famous years ago. LS (Laughing silently) Curiously, my old essay called No Links is Good Links is one of my popular ones. (Archived in July 2012)

I’ve been translated again, ten times, for my piece on inflation once being, according to the governments of Canada and the US, a “mystery.” (November 2013) Not now, of course. If you remember the ten lepers healed by Jesus, then you may guess how many of the ten Mexican translations resulted in a courtesy comment to me: None. Nada.
At the very top right of my blog site I have resorted to putting the first word, TRANSLATORS, in capital letters, continuing, “please consider leaving a comment so I don’t die of curiosity.” Sadly, no one ever does. Perhaps even translators are skimmers in a hurry. LS

After my last admin page, in my Taking Stock post, (November 2013) I noted Google was very seldom showing me any search terms for how people discovered my essays. Like a “financial institution” that scorns its individual depositors to favor big companies, Google seems to scorn the folks on Google’s own blog server, Blogspot, (Blogger) to favor keeping big companies in the dark about which search terms succeed.

Isn’t scorning your innocent na├»ve eager fans, well, a tad evil? LS.  … This month I increased my suspicions that Google’s old “don’t be evil” value is no longer part of their company culture. See Scott Berkun’s piece on corporate culture and the two comments by Daniel S. Wilkerson. (I have two comments too)   

This Page Of 25 Essays
If I care about prose blogs for reading, not skimming, then maybe it’s because I have the sensibilities of a nerd. And I’m not the only one: While it’s too early to tell, my last post in April looks like it’ll be a popular one: Me, a Closet Nerd is steadily, swiftly getting page hits. LOL and LS

Going by hit-count the most popular piece on this latest admin page by far is Words, Guys and Unisex. (January 2014) That’s gratifying since I don’t think the road to equal rights for women should be overgrown with underbrush and forgotten—never! As a fan of Star Trek Voyager, I enjoy gender-neutral language.

Going by “likes” my most popular post this page is Activists and Music Videos. (December 2013) That’s gratifying, both because I want to encourage “effective” activism in the next generation, and because while I wrote I was imagining young music lovers reading my essay as volunteers, not as teens trapped in school with their English teacher. Yet despite the “likes,” the hits are less than for my “Guys” one; while, speaking of music, my Troy, the Iliad and Music (January 2014) a tragic post I felt very moved to write, received only average readership.

Me, In the Last 25 Weeks
My parents continue to evade the insurance actuarial tables: Both are still alive, both in special housing—one in assisted living, one living in a pavilion of the general hospital—and both have some dementia. (Calling near mother’s day caused a new shock—like how the terminator, hanging up the phone, shocked the boy in T2) I’m driving out to their time zone next month to see them. My dad, who grew up in a family with nine children, called himself “the last of the rascals.” If ever I wanted to ask about his deceased siblings, well, that window is closed.

I’m still in a Toastmasters club. A member, Shawna, is sending the rest of us an e-mail about “gratitude” every morning for 21 mornings in a row. I myself know the concept, and two of my agency clients, who ask for me by name, have gratitude as a lifestyle choice too, but—my agency? I hope to give our “company culture” a nudge. Learning gratitude has been a nice part of my “upward curve.”

My diligence in writing, a sort of cross training that helps my public speaking, has paid off: In my Freefall writing group I’m doing well. How well? People sometimes remark about not wanting to read aloud right after me. A newcomer, Marie, went so far as to tell me she wouldn’t ever be sitting beside me. Small world: Marie told an old co-worker of mine about her group, who said, “That sounds like a group that Sean from my old workplace goes to.”
Marie replied, “He’s very helpful.”
“Oh, that’s Sean.”
So I’m glad I’ve developed a “help ethic” for work and for life. Too bad my essays labeled “work” get the fewest hits; because I think I have things worth saying to new workers.

I’m still learning various secrets of society, hidden in plain sight. Recently I learned from one of my favorite web essayists, Stevey, (Quoted at the top) how there are two sorts of people: The folks “on the upward curve” who keep learning, and the folks who are done with learning “and will coast” through life. Stevey’s concept comes in handy for his hiring interviews, considering his staff may someday have to learn things for their job. I’m glad how through my hobbies of Toastmasters and Freefall I have the privilege of being among folks who don’t want to coast through their lives, something I liked about my peers back in my armed forces days.
I can't promise you any satisfaction from the upward curve. You'll get better at a lot of things, and you'll have plenty of interesting insights. You may even get a better job, or build some software that makes you famous, or just have more fun at what you do. But you won't have much time for television. Something will have to give. We all have to choose how to play our time, and it's a zero-sum game.(Stevey Yegge, see footnote)
 During university my favorite people were the ones who, even if they were taking a career program, as I was, and even if they were to magically win the lottery, would still be determined to have their education adventure. Other students, I now realize, were not on the upward curve, and forever fighting gravity, they were only on campus “because I have to… to get a job.” How sad—do they skim? How sad.

A Stupid Yankee University
There is a university in Boston where every student has won a genetic lottery: They all have rich parents. At Brandeis, an expensive private university, they did a typical student thing: They invited a former refugee and Member of Parliament, writer Aayan Hirsi Ali, to speak and receive an honorary degree. Here, for young isolationist Ugly Americans, would be an adventure of new ideas. Last month, they did a very unstudent thing: They “disinvited” her. There would be no challenging their old conformity-high school view of the world, no, lest they feel uncomfortable or insulted in their conformity. Brandeis students, according to their actions, need to be sheltered. As Canadian Rex Murphy said on the CBC radio, “Is this a university or a daycare?”

How could an entire campus not be on the upward curve? And how, since Ali was a Muslim refugee offering intelligence for the American war on terror, could American students and staff want to engage in a “war without windows”? I think I found the answer when I wrote in my April nerd piece—here is a key excerpt:

QUOTE …In Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein the smart teen hero meets a very rich, very high status young lady of average I.Q. who is ignorant of science and other planets, while being well suited to her life-role as host of a manor. It seems to me that if our society values status, and puts a high status on being college educated, then the self-respecting solution for those who are rich and “supposed to be” high status is to attend expensive special colleges for the less gifted. UNQUOTE

Brandeis, then, could be a university for the rich and challenged. The upper class, as Orwell indirectly noted, have a vested interest in not developing their ability to listen; for my listening piece (May 2014) I held back a section on Brandeis; here it is now:

QUOTE I see a letter in the NY Times from a professor at Brandeis who thought Ali would be too disrespectful of Islam if she were allowed to speak. Maybe. How do you know? —I’ll bet my beer that both school presidents, the younger student council one and the older campus one, wouldn’t risk their comfort by telephoning Ali to ask about her respect.

In contrast: A professional stand up comedian, Lenny Bruce, was known to be very disrespectful of society, and with good reason, judging by his sad life story, and yet, despite Bruce having been arrested several times, a fellow professional expressed having no qualms about inviting Bruce to perform on his TV show, because he knew that Bruce was a professional who would suit his material to his television audience. I think a former Member of Parliament would be sane, despite death threats against her, and be respectful of parents and students in a formal graduation audience, though she might be less politically tactful when talking to a younger student-only audience.

As it happens, Brandeis is a private expensive university for rich people. Perhaps a paragraph regarding the rich girl in Citizen of the Galaxy, is relevant. (See above) Perhaps all the good enthusiastic professors, relishing enthusiastic peers, have avoided joining the self-hobbled faculty at Brandeis, leaving no one to speak up to advocate having a campus that's better than a daycare.

Then again, even established tenured professors, on any campus, could be awfully strange indeed: Some old profs still believe in communism. See my essay about the “Regina sixteen” in my essay of April 2010, Socialists Reject Soldiers. (The professors didn’t think orphans of dead soldiers deserved scholarships) UNQUOTE

Hey, thanks for letting me be self-indulgent: Nothing more about me until another 25 weeks.


Sean Crawford
Calgary
May
(I saw a gnat flying around my car window: Spring is here!)
2014

Footnotes:
Yes, I know you can use a search engine, but I am linking to Stevey because you might miss out on finding he has two blogs. This one, where the top eight posts by page hits include why You Should Write Blogs, will link to his other one where his upward curve rant was posted on March 24 of 2006.

I hope I haven’t made Stevey sound too Puritan-nerd-serious. While indeed he watches less television, he also puts man-hours into video games. And everybody says his blog posts are funny.


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