Lunacon 2014 (2): Saturday

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Even though Lunacon is over, I’m going to keep writing up my notes and impressions, if only to keep writing in general.

Saturday was the busiest day of the con, and it certainly showed in my personal programming grid.  I faced the typical con paradox:  Too many good panels all at the same time.  I ended up at the following:

Marc Cohn @ The City Winery, 2012 Jan 26

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{This has apparently been sitting in my Drafts folder for four years.  Oops.  I never finished it, so it ends abruptly. -=-BLG}

It’s been a while (a real long while) since I’ve gotten to a Marc Cohn show, but this one was worth it.  He played the City Winery, which is an odd hybrid of concert space, fine dining, boutique winery, and microbrewery.  I ordered my ticket early and got a really good seat at the last row of tables on the floor, just before the risers to a second tier.  And I snagged one that faced the stage (as about half of them face away), saving myself a tremendous crick in my neck.

I arrived well early so as to get dinner ordered and done before the show.  The food selection is a bit limited though it seemed like there was lots of good stuff on the menu.  I got a flatbread pizza and finished with an order of house-made pretzels that somehow or another are made from the house wine.  I don’t really get how that works.  The pretzels were fine (crunchy and mostly unsalted, which actually is what I wanted).   Since I don’t drink, I can’t speak to the wines.

On riots, protests, and the legitimacy of violence (short)

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For everyone who has counseled the citizens of Baltimore (and Ferguson and…) that “violence is not the answer” and that it would be better if everyone just protested peacefully:

1) As has now been documented extensively, the protests were by and large peaceful — and even more by and large, ignored by the national media.

2) Violence certainly is an  answer — and one which history shows can be quite effective in prompting change.  See for proof the French Revolution, or the American Revolution, for that matter.  Of course violence is a random and uncontrolled beast, and the odds are that the reaction it prompts will not be the outcome desired… but usually, something will change.  For people who’ve spent their whole lives trapped in a system crushing them without end, any change might be welcome, at least at first.

Would you prefer peaceful protest to violent outbursts?  Would you see people advocate for the redress of grievances without resorting to threats or damage to property or even lives?  Then address the systemic evils, the in-built hardships and unspoken oppressions, the things done not through active racist thought but through the far worse passive racist without-thought.  You want people to respect the police?  Then demand that the police behave respectably.  You want your cities to be bastions of peace?  Then save them from being cauldrons of hopelessness.

Above all, if you want this problem to “just go away”, pay attention to it — and for love of all that is true, pay attention even when the fires have gone out and the windows have been repaired and the next big distraction comes down the tube.  This problem has been centuries in the making and we’ve squandered five decades or more in addressing it — it won’t ever go away until we finally put it away.

What explains the waning influence of research blaming black poverty on black culture

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Vox has an article purporting to explore “The real reason research blaming black poverty on black culture has fallen out of favor”.  And it’s fine so far as it goes, but it still dances around the reality.

Why has “blaming black poverty on black culture has fallen out of favor”? Because the same dire straits and dead-end traits show up among the non-college-educated White population: increased parental absenteeism, increased substance abuse, socioeconomic lock. Since it would obviously be crazy to deduce that these problems are intrinsic to White culture, it’s no longer fashionable to assign a genetic driver to them. In reality of course, the actual lesson is: Take away good-paying jobs and educational opportunity, and — shocker! — families and communities feel stressed, leading to more disorder.

http://www.vox.com/2015/3/26/8253495/moynihan-report-liberal-backlash

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 1 “Deep Breath”

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I finally got around to watching Season 8 Episode 1 (“Deep Breath”) of the revived Doctor Who.   It’s the first one with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.  (What do we call him, anyway?  Is he the 12th Doctor, even though we know that Matt Smith‘s 11 was really the twelfth?)  So it’s probably worth a few words.

Warning: This will be rife with spoilers for which there will be no further apology.

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What is a library?

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I am far from the first to ask this question in an increasingly-electronic age, and I am sure that my answer will be far from unique.  But my wife and I have batted the question around a couple of times and I wanted to get my thoughts down.  The proximate cause of our discussion was an meditation on the large space allocated to the library in the school where I teach, the dusty and ill-utilized books moldering there, and the concern that the library might come to be seen as “wasted” space.  The thought of a college-prep school without a library seems equal parts worrisome and absurd, yet it’s hard to argue in favor of the proposition that the stacks continue to serve their traditional vital role in education.  Can the library be saved when books have fallen out of favor?

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The persistence of “factory”-style schools

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Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute asksWhy Do ‘Anti-Corporatists’ Defend Factory-Style Leadership?”  There’s a lot in there I’d like to respond to; here’s my first swing at it.

It’s easy to blame hidebound educators for educational malaise, and some of the blame lands justly. But you cannot begin to understand the problem until you realize how strenuously parents resist any change that means their kids aren’t learning it the way they did. If education “looks different”, it is distrusted and undervalued. (Witness the growing backlash over Common Core.)

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All good things may come to an end, but you can sometimes revisit them

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Today (2014 May 23) is the 20th anniversary of the airing of “All Good Things…”, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It cannot be denied that this series is directly responsible for the resurgence of American sci-fi on television – without the Enterprise-D, there would have been no Babylon 5, no Stargate, no reimagined Battlestar Galactica.  Without the evidence that “geek culture” could make real money, there might well have been no Dark Night, no Lord of the Rings (movies), no Game of Thrones (series), no Avengers assembled.

Watching it again, I was surprised how well this episode holds up as a capstone to an amazing series.  Sure, there are glitches – the anomaly grows larger in the past, except when it doesn’t, after being created by tachyon pulses emitted by three Enterprises except one of them was the Pasteur.  But that’s just nitpicking.  The key to Trek has never been the technobabble.  It’s been the intricate interplay between sharply-drawn characters who wear their humanity on their sleeve, and the ineffable possibilities of existence itself.  And ST:TNG still had that ineluctable optimism that characterized the original.  It had hope in the stars and hope in us.   As much as I enjoy the grittier fare we generally get these days, I will admit to missing that simple faith in the future.

Happy Tax Day!

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And I mean that non-ironically.  I don’t like paying taxes, but I am proud to do it.  Taxes are not only necessary to maintain the way of life we value.  They are a direct investment in the very concept of civilization.   Taxes are the explicit statement that we are a community and we have a communal responsibility to each other.  They are also the explicit recognition that no one is in this alone, that no one is solely responsible for his or her own success, and that we are, to some measure, dependent on each other.

Yes, I inveigle against waste and fraud, just like everyone else.  Perhaps even more so, because they are a violation of this trust, that the communal burden be fairly borne and communally valuable — that no individual benefit unduly.  But the current fetish on minimizing taxes (even at the cost of undermining society) boggles my mind.  It reeks of hubris and solipsism.

Taxes are a burden but  not all burdens are bad.  Jingoists like to lecture us “Freedom isn’t free” — and indeed, it isn’t.  Part of the cost — not the lion’s share, but not a negligible one — is directly an economic one: The taxes we pay.  You cannot defend a nation, or provide speedy justice, or protect the innocent, for free.  You cannot offer hope and opportunity, or discover new cures, or build a better future, for free.  The American project, whatever that turns out to be, is bigger than any one person or any one group.  Taxes are part of the sinew that binds us into one nation.

Taxes help make clear: We are all in this together.

So again, I say, Happy Tax Day!

(For your amusement, here’s a link to the original income tax forms.)