May 8, 2014

I’ve been blogging since 2003, and I started wurdz in July, 2006. My last post here was 29 Dec. 2012. Then I made this blog private, and I haven’t posted since–17 months, almost a year and a half.

I was unemployed. I worried that prospective employers would take umbrage at some of my views. In fact, those phantom employers most likely would never visit this blog.

No matter. I committed an inner censorship.

But life’s too short to act cowardly.

So let me celebrate here all the things I’ve shut up about:

  • my mom’s dementia and how I understand better why humans created the Devil because Satan is the only explanation for such a cruel end-of-life journey
  • academia and laboring as an adjunct instructor or contingent faculty–love that term, “contingent”–such a fitting adjective
  • the death of higher education and the birth of free MOOCs!
  • living in the U.S. without health insurance
  • the oligarchization of the U.S.–OK, I think I broke a linguistic cog writing “oligarchization.” In apology, I offer a link to Bill Moyers’ interview of Paul Krugman on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Please watch.
  • my growing love of really good infographics. I will post on this.
  • aging
  • death and dying

You’re probably thinking after reading that list that you’re better off if I keep shutting up. I promise to add unicorns and lots of pink in between the death and dying stuff.


2012 in review

December 30, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

You know FB has finally hooked you when

December 29, 2012

you think about updating your status with an insight before writing about it in your journal or talking about it with anyone else.

I signed up with Facebook in 2006 after some students at Alabama A&M invited me and told me I needed to be on Facebook. Some students preferred MySpace, so I may have had a MySpace account first. No matter — I rarely used either.

And, until about a week ago, I still didn’t *get* Facebook. Really not. Did not get the appeal. Didn’t get how folks logged on several times a day. Didn’t get the FB games with farm animals and fairies. Just did not get FB. A utilitarian FB user, I considered myself above the hoi polloi because I logged on only after I’d gotten a Gmail message alerting me to a new post in one of the groups I belonged to. I used FB for information — not personal aggrandizement.

Then, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I *shared* a poster with a quote by John Oliver about shoe-bombs, airport security, and gun laws. And I watched the poster get re-posted by several people. And I thought, “Wow. That’s almost a meme, eh?” Then I shared a photo of young Angela Davis and Toni Morrison walking side-by-side and wearing huge afros. Several people commented. Nieces, former colleagues, old friends I haven’t seen in many years. And I was finally hooked. I finally got FB. What did I get? The serendipity and idiosyncrasy of information and sharing it. Echoes. The comfort of like minds. Appreciation.

Now, I log on to FB, and I often spend five to ten minutes scrolling through all the updates. I enjoy FB community — which is a curious sort of community. I won’t call it elusive or illusionary, although I want to. I feel a connection to people with whom I have not spoken in many years — sometimes decades. I know personal preferences and incidents in the lives of people whom I know only cursorily in face-to-face interactions. And I bump up against people I’ve never met but discover through other FB friends — and I appreciate their writing or their events or their politics.

I finally touched down on Planet Facebook.

Google’s tribute to Ada

December 10, 2012

Yeah! The Google doodle for today is a tribute to Lady Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace. Click on the doodle and you’ll find a list of excellent resources.

I’ll add my own here — a paper I write in 2000 called Ada and Grace: Practical Visionaries. I wrote the paper for a computer science class I took (in C — imagine that…), and I remember getting 110 on it. But then, I had my PhD in comparative literature and had been teaching college for a while. I think my computer science teacher was deliriously happy to get a literate and well-researched paper, and she also knew I worked my butt off in the class. Just a bit competitive academically, I got one of the highest grades.

Sue Bogar’s class taught me that coding was like writing poetry, and Ada — only legitimate child of Lord Byron — knew how math and language interwove. My favorite quotation from my research comes from a letter Ada wrote to her mother: “You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?”

my relationship with the dictionary

October 16, 2012

I did something I haven’t done in a very long time — I looked up a word in the dictionary. That is, I pulled down the second volume (N-Z) of my copy of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) from the top shelf of my bookshelf and riffled the pages to “withdrawal,” the word I wanted to learn more about.

In my journal this morning, I was writing about the three types of coping mechanisms Charlotte Joko Beck discusses in Nothing Special: “conforming to please, attacking, or withdrawing” (122). Those of you who have had enough therapy or psych classes probably recognize that my focus on “withdrawal” means I was investigating my primary coping strategy. As I wrote, I got caught up with the word — where did it come from? Why pair these two words — “with” and “draw”? Anything to do with 19th-century British drawing rooms? I was veering off into duels and Samuel Richardson-like scenarios as I contemplated the widely different meanings of the word — for instance, “withdrawal” is what one experiences if one stops engaging in an addiction. So I thought, ‘I need to look this up.’ And the most curious thing occurred — I decided that my usual practice of googling the word and choosing the Merriam Webster definition would not give me the information I needed. I wanted origins, history, context. Nothing but the Shorter OED would do.

I felt virtuous as I hoisted the fiteen pounds of paper and binding down from the shelf. I opened the pages and realized I needed to change my regular glasses to reading glasses or else I wouldn’t be able to decipher the print. No matter — I was delighted to land on “wibbly-wobbly” on my way to “withdrawal” and thought, yet again with that Luddite smugness, ‘Oh, I’d never have found this word if I’d just gone online.’

“Wicca” is the entry directly below “wibbly-wobbly,” and my smugness slipped a smidgeon. “The practices and religious cult of modern witchcraft.” That’s it? I thought of Wikipedia and imagined a much longer and much more informative entry. I got sidetracked for a few seconds with “wichert” (a kind of chalk mixed with straw to make walls) and “wichuraiana” (roses named after Max Ernst Wichura) and thought again that the online Merriam Webster would have confined me to looking only at entries before or after the word I sought.

Before reading the entry for “withdrawal,” I marveled at the four full columns dedicated to “with,” thus proving that prepositions are the bane of any English language learner. “Withdrawal” – “n. E19” tells me the word is a noun from the early 19th century. I had to go back to the front part of volume 1 to get the explanation for “E19.” “[f. WITHDRAW v + -AL, repl. the earlier WITHDRAWMENT.]” There’s a superscript 1 after “-AL,” and I’m not going to ferret out what it refers to. The initial “f.” means “from.” I found that explanation at the front of volume 2, where all abbreviations are listed. I still did not find out if the word is originally English but no mention of any other language indicates its English origins. The definitions spanned from the psychological to the financial. I did not learn what I wanted, which was a history of the word.

So I googled “withdrawal” and clicked on the Merriam Webster definition. No hefting of bound pages, no need for reading glasses since I could adjust the font, no need to go back to volume 1 to figure out all the abbreviations. Same definitions, but I find out that the first use of the word was in 1749. No documentation for that claim. The medical term for “withdrawal” also has its own separate entry. And I am invited to tell Merriam Webster why I was looking for this word. I can also read users’ comments, and I learn that while one person has been spelling the word wrong for years (spellcheck informed her), another user was pleased that Merriam Webster online proved her email spellcheck wrong when it chastised her for spelling “withdrawal” incorrectly. (I have just realized that I will never get back the five minutes I’ve spent reading these comments and writing about them.)

I’ve always read a lot, and one of my great pleasures as a child, a tween, a teen, and even a young adult was looking up words in the dictionary. I had a hard-bound American Heritage dictionary — I think. I remember what the cover looked like and how the threads of the cover came undone over the years of use. I was one of those word nerds, who wrote down the word and the meaning and then tried to use the word in conversation or writing. Word nerds get this — that palpable joy in vocabulary and increasing one’s choice.

But my experience today tells me that I won’t likely pull down The New Shorter OED any time soon. I like seeing the two fat navy-blue volumes on my top shelf and remembering when my family gave the costly birthday present. But to find a definition, I’m likely going to continue my habit of googling a word and choosing the Merriam Webster definition. But I need to remember that my practice costs me the smile that “wibbly-wobbly” engenders and the insight about the labyrinthine usages of that deceptively innocuous preposition, “with.”

first political consulting firm in 1933 and its role in health care

September 18, 2012

Published in The New Yorker (24 Sept. 2012), Jill Lepore’s The Lie Factory: How Politics Became a Business is the kind of article we need more of. Lepore details the first political consulting firm, Campaigns, Inc., founded in 1933, and offers a chronology of battles including the defeat of two health care insurance programs: Earl Warren’s (governor of CA — his program was defeated in 1945) and Harry Truman’s (the President’s program was defeated in 1952). For some historical perspective, here’s Lepore on the defeat of Truman’s plan:

Whitaker and Baxter’s campaign against Harry Truman’s national-health-insurance proposal cost the A.M.A. nearly five million dollars, and it took more than three years. But they turned the President’s sensible, popular, and urgently needed legislative reform into a bogeyman so scary that, even today, millions of Americans are still scared.

Lepore’s piece offers excellent research and much-needed historical background to our current landscape of super pacs and health care rhetoric.

excellent article comparing for-profit schools and the sub-prime mortgage crisis

August 28, 2012

Gary Lapon’s College, Inc. discusses the findings from a two-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. For a clear wake-up call on education, please read this article. If you wonder about student-loan default, read this article.

Here’s one chilling passage:

According to the Harkin report, the Apollo Group, the largest of the for-profit education companies and operator of the infamous University of Phoenix, “$3.1 billion in federal student aid, in addition to $46 million in military education benefits…86.8 percent of the company’s revenue, and $925 million of their profit, is attributed to federal taxpayer sources.”

Watch any of the ubiquitous TV ads for for-profit schools and some other online programs, and you’ll notice that the core image is attaining the American dream through education. Instead, students remain undertrained, overcharged, and indebted. Who profits? Not the students.