Free at last

One of the best feelings in being retired is knowing I am free to voice my opinions on issues important to me. You might assume that this was always the case given the constitution that governs our behavior – free speech and all. While I admit to some transgressions, educators are reluctant to express themselves. This is especially the case in the presence of our students – the individuals we are responsible for influencing.

At the college level, I wonder about the legitimacy of this type of expectation. It gives little credit to either student or instructor. It assumes instructors would use their position of authority to demand acceptance or at least vocal parroting of a belief – e.g., the correct answers on exams or the position to be taken in a paper must be consistent with the beliefs of the instructor. It assumes students have no beliefs of their own and have no capacity to use these beliefs to question the life experiences that come at them. The development and application of such skills is the very essence of critical thinking. Developing critical thinkers is promoted as essential to 21st-century learners.

Social media offers educators an opportunity to express themselves. I am disappointed that so few educators I follow take positions on political issues. What other profession can so easily be manipulated through political pressure? So often educators seem to be a political punching bag unable or unwilling to defend themselves.

Some suggest that educators separate any political comments they might make from comments on educational practice. For example, if you participate in Twitter chats with colleagues do not comment on political issues using Twitter. If you have a blog that you use to comment on your classroom practices, create a second blog if you want to comment on political issues. In my experience, few educators make the effort. Political issues may arise that encourage their comment, but the effort required to commitment to a second outlet for their opinions is just too much work.

I am disappointed in the commitment of my colleagues in voicing the feelings and the experiences I know they have. The repression of personal beliefs is not something anyone in this country should accept. If I ever felt inhibited, I am pleased to now say I feel free at last.

I can’t be one of those old dudes in Texas playing shuffleboard. Whatever talents I have left are better suited to other endeavors.

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Minnesota Caucus 2016

This is “super Tuesday” or “terrible Tuesday” or some such thing indicating the significance of the date in determining the 2016 Presidential candidates. This will be the first time I have participated in a political process in Minnesota. Politics in North Dakota was different. I decided early on that I have Democratic values and I have mostly voted with that party. I participated one time in the “primary process” in North Dakota. I think it has an unusual name – maybe district convention or something. I remember attending one such event. The specifics have faded a bit, but the process was quick. I checked a candidate on a slip of paper and was told I could pick up materials from a table. I had no use for a bumper sticker so I passed. It was very quick and small. I am thinking being a North Dakota dem had a lot to do with the experience.

The Minnesota experience was very different. I was not certain how a caucus went so I looked it up online. I thought I had participated in a caucus in North Dakota, but I checked and this does seem to be the case. The crowd here was immense. Far larger than I remember for any vote I cast in ND. I understand the caucus process is about more than a preference count, but few are interested in the platform or becoming delegates. There must be some way to separate those interested in these other commitments and accommodate the mob that just wants to state a preference. The crowd was a great thing and I hope there is some significance in the level of interest.

No funny stuff in this post. This is a serious matter. My concern is that many are disturbed by the negativity and extremism that now seems to dominate the political discourse in this country. We deserve better from our leaders.

caucus1 caucus2

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When brilliance fades

Politicians take credit, but usually not blame for things that happen during their administrations. North Dakota had a great run when many other states were struggling because it was able to frack and retrieve oil. What annoyed me at the time, was the tendency of politicians running and representing the state (translate as mostly republicans) to take credit for this prosperity. The “easy” money in hard times allowed cutting taxes and job growth. Re-election was easy and even encouraged some to encourage other states to look to North Dakota as an example. At the time, I suggested that the brilliance of the North Dakota politicians was positioning the state on top of huge numbers of dead dinosaurs.

Changing circumstances can reveal the flaws in bad plans and claims of brilliance. I have been gone from the state and working at the University now for a couple of years. I still keep up on what is happening and I know institutions have been asked to cut budgets, leave open positions open, and make other adjustments to help the state deal with shortfalls. Today, I see the state is closing rest stops in an effort to reduce spending. Perhaps this is an effort to encourage greater reliance on the “public sector”.

I don’t read much about politicians stepping up to take the same responsibility for the down turn. Pretty much the same cast of characters, but the spin will have to be a little different this election season.


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Suggestions for surviving at an outlet mall

While on the road, I ended up in an outlet mall and had the time to pass on the following wisdom.

I have some unique skills that have allowed me to survive and sometimes flourish in this complex world in which we live. As I age, I am sensing this responsibility to pass on my knowledge to future generations. There are plenty of elders willing to mentor others in business or academics. Sports teams often hire older players past their prime because such players provide positive role models in the locker room or on the bench. It is in this spirit that I am willing to pass on some of my unique wisdom – how to survive if you find yourself stranded at an outlet mall.

So, there you are stuck at an outlet mall far from home and access to the sports or news channels on television. You probably ended up here in good faith. You were foolish enough to believe the claim – let’s just stop in for a second so I can find some bargains for the grandkids. It is hard to argue that you are unwilling to sacrifice a few seconds for the grandkids. The problem with the request is that the definition of “a few seconds” is never made clear. I have time to write this post because a few seconds ago I was dropped off at a mall Starbucks (by mutual consent). Stretching a few minutes into several hours is possibly explainable by Einstein’s theory of relativity which I admit I do not understand. Something about space can stretch time. However, I know my wife is not an expert on advanced models of the universe so I am guessing “a few seconds” is simply a euphemism women use so men do not complain ahead of time.

Anyway, back to my suggestions.

First, if you are new to the outlet mall experience, it is important to establish low expectations for your capabilities. I long ago made it clear that walking on concrete for long periods of time, stopping and starting to look in store windows or merchandise displays, resulted in foot pain. Foot pain causes me to move slower and slower and to become more vocal with sighs and groans. This becomes annoying to anyone expecting you to participate actively in shopping. With expectations managed, you should be allowed to sit somewhere comfortable for the duration.

Come prepared. Bring a book. Better yet, bring an iPad or computer and a phone that can serve as a mobile hotspot. Remember that being on the Internet for several hours places a great strain on your batteries so make certain your device has been charged or bring a cord. If you forget your cord, a depleted battery may also shorten the time you must stay. Make sure your phone is charged so that you can announce that your laptop has no more power and you can find nothing more to do.

Second, search for a food court. Many outlet malls have one. If you can find a food court you are golden and can survive for hours. There may be other mall husbands hanging out as well. Sit toward the outside away from the food stores. DO NOT make the cardinal mistake of immediately ordering a meal. Remember, you are here to pass the time and SAMPLE. If you feel conspicuous you can immediately purchase a soda to sip while you work on other things and carefully survey your options. Once you are familiar with your surroundings, work slowly. Perhaps a hamburger first. Wait a bit and then perhaps a chocolate dipped, ice cream cone. Some malls have a Starbucks next to the food court. Usually, the Starbucks will be in a separate room. You can pass an entire afternoon in such a setup. Visit the Starbucks to have a latte and use the wifi. Move into the food court for a little Chinese (the three selection option and not the four) and station yourself at a table near the Starbucks so you can make use of the wifi. Remember, slow and steady.

Finally, when your significant other returns with her treasures never comment on the quantity or ask about price. This will likely result in an invitation to participate more accurately and will not matter anyway. Offer to help carry the bags to the car.

I hope these recommendations are helpful. These are only general guidelines and you will have to make adjustments based on your surroundings and personal needs.

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Life in perspective

This one is for my old colleagues back at the University of North Dakota. For no fault of their own, they are going through some frustrating times.

Yes, this is a picture of a common southern beer (Lone Star) and an oyster po-boy. The beer is what triggered the memory generating this post (the po-boy was good – oyster season just started).

I order a Lone Star once during any road trip when I notice it on the beer list. I like to quote song lyrics and noticing a Lone Star beer triggers the opportunity. Usually, Cindy has to listen when I break into song and then explain the significance of the lyrics. A blog post is probably better suited to my talents. The lyrics that follow are from “Lightning Bar Blues” and I associate the song with a midwest bar band hero – Johnny Holm (the link above should take you to a version recorded in Ellendale, ND, in 2008). I last heard the band at a street festival in Alexandria, MN

The band starts the song acapella (use the link and at least listen to the first 30 seconds):

I don’t need no diamond ring

I don’t need no Cadillac car

I just want to drink my Lone Star beer

Down in the Lightning bar

Some versions of the song substitute Ripple wine for Lone Star beer, but I suppose the message is the same. The Ellendale version uses the reference to Lone Star and this is how I remember the song.

What a great comment on the “big picture”.

I guess this is a drinking song. Please limit yourself to two.

[A bonus track from the band]

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Emergency – we are out of data

We have a 30 gigabyte phone data plan. There is also a roll over feature raising the total we had available until the 17th to 43 gigs. Our normal monthly utilization is about 10 gigs, but we purchase the larger plan because a couple times a year (like now) we travel and need more capacity.

I looked last night and we had used 26 gigs which should have allowed 17 gigs to get us to the 17th. Somehow after going to sleep last night we used everything we had left. Exactly how this happened is unclear. Possibly, we were watching our sling box before going to bed (a device that streams our television from our Minnesota residence) and turning off the television did not stop the feed. First world problem.

Cindy is on her phone and she seems to have plan B in place. We keep running into the situation in which a newer plan is available at a lower price and no one tells us. I may have to go to McDonalds to continue posting. McDonalds does have decent coffee and now offers egg McMuffins all day long. Could be worse.

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Mardi Gras

I know something about Mardi Gras. I have visited New Orleans many times and watched both seasons of Treme. I listen to Trombone Shorty and even watched Dr. John perform at a jazz festival. I have marched in a pretend parade complete with a band with a tuba player. I have maintained my dignity throughout showing nothing that is not normally visible.

I learned more about Mardi Gras on this trip. I had assumed that the parades and the event were a New Orleans thing. Not so. It appears every little town along the southern coast has an event and a parade. We attended such a parade yesterday and accidentally got in line behind a parade last night. Evidently, it is the thing to run a parade down a major highway. If your parade is a little short you soon have a couple miles of cars bringing up the rear. They are not honking because they are celebrating.

I still am mystified by the bead thing. They are cheap, but even the old ladies fight to get them. Do not get in the way or do what I was doing – trying to take photos. Beads would bounce off me as I searched for interesting shots through the view finder. The moon pie thing was new, but the moon pie is not a favorite. Why not throw Snickers bars? You can get bags of the minis cheap after Halloween and keep them in the freezer.

I wonder what happens to the bags of beads some carry away. Cindy says they might sell them on eBay. I think they throw them in the back seat and then throw them out when they eventually clean. The moon pies may even taste better when they dry out.

We attended the parade of the Mullet Magic Krewe.

The Queen

Bands played on floats. Doesn’t this guy look like the perfect southern rocker. He was good.

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Not a role model

[cross posted from my travel blog]

Lots of rain in Florida so plenty of time to sit and write.

Charles Barkely, a pretty decent basketball player in his day and now a television personality, once responded to criticism of his behavior by arguing that he was not a role model. He was not trying to excuse his behavior but pretty much trying to argue that he should not both be criticized for his behavior and also failing to be a good public model for others. The push back kind of suggested that the dual criticism comes with the territory. If you are in a field that requires public observation to exist (no fans, no money), you must accept the expectation that you present a positive public image.

In this time of great attention to political figures, I was thinking about the Charles Barkely argument as it might apply to political candidates. Are the behaviors of these public figures the behaviors we admire and want imitated by our children? Who do we asume should be allowed to behave in this manner – our clergy, physicians, teachers, store owners, neighbors?

Consider the difficult job of educators in an election year. Educators are expected (required) to develop in their students certain characteristics – tolerance and acceptance of differences, honesty, a sense of responsibility for those who are less fortunate, and effective communication skills. While political correctness has probably gone too far in many settings, what has become common political rhetoric would be far beyond the pale in most classrooms.

John – make sure you study your spelling tonight. Remember we have a spelling bee tomorrow. We want to be ready to kick those students in Mrs. Smith’s class asses.

Sue – could you get your mother to come to see me, She needs to know what a loser you have become.

Sam – I know you are a sophomore and all, but could you try to use shorter sentences and avoid any word longer than 6 letters. You need to learn to avoid acting like you know something.

I cannot think of a scenario in which “carpet bomb them into oblivion” would be used in a school situation and I apologize for this. There are just some situations in which my creativity fails me.

How might we place a label of “I am definitely not a role model” on some political behavior? What might encourage us to step back and try to imagine how certain behaviors might be viewed by others? Who welcomes many of the behaviors being exhibited as predictive of being an effective learner?

I sometimes think people with money or who have long been in a position of power confuse what they themselves can do with what they can use their authority to have done. The physical braggadocio of some of these characters strikes me as humorous, but a little bit scary as it might be interpreted by others. Are we really willing to support bullying?

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On the road

I apologize now for the low number of posts I am likely to generate in the next 4-5 weeks. I am on the road and I have generated a separate blog for this adventure – Grarpodimagebe Travels. I understand that this title will probably attract little attention, but I hate to attract more attention than I deserve. Imagine sitting in a car with me for 8-10 hours a day and then following up such experiences being cooped up in a 18-foot trailer. Now imagine me writing about these experiences. Not exactly “On the road” with Kerouac.

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Zap me mama

We are an easy mark for sales people. We know this and typically try to avoid sales pitches whenever possible. Unlike Cindy, I have little experience shopping. I understand that hating shop, but being prone to buy may be unusual. But, this combination may make things even worse. I bond with sales people and buy far too easily. I am especially vulnerable if I am by myself and do not have Cindy to grab me by the arm and pull me to safety. Sending me to a grocery store often results in many impulse buys and I return with all kinds of things in addition to the milk and eggs I was asked to buy. Luckily, the amount of damage I can do in a grocery store is limited.

Both Cindy and I are particularly vulnerable to technology purchases. Neither one of us has ever been able to say no. We pretty much have one (sometimes two) of everything – phones, computers, robots, tablets, watches, google glass, television boxes of various types, etc. When we feel bad, we justify our expenditures by remembering we still “work” in this field and need to have experience with the devices and applications we describe and recommend. Everyone has hobbies and I tend to tell Cindy we must do what we can to keep the economy moving.

However, when we are around shiny new things, we sometimes do foolish things. We have a history of making purchases on the floor of a technology vendor show that have nothing to do with our interests or the purpose of the show. It is like the feeding frenzy gets out of hand and spills over to random products. For example, we purchased a digital camcorder at an educational tech conference before such devices were really available. Vendors were not really allowed to sell, but we somehow were able to convince the vendor to sell us one. I don’t remember if we ever got the thing to work. We have purchased gel shoe inserts at a tech show. It makes some sense that vendors offer these at a large show. You walk for miles on a concrete floor and your feet get really sore. They let you slip a demo of the insert into your shoe and walk around. It does feel great. Once you own these inserts and use them on a regular basis the benefits seem to dissipate. At least shoe inserts are cheap.


We made a couple of purchases a week ago at an educational technology conference that has our health professional kids shaking their heads. We bought electrical body stimulators. To make matters worse, we bought one for each of us. We own two. Our daughter the occupational therapist says we now own nearly the same number of devices as they have available in her clinic. She wanted to know what they told us that would convince us to purchase electrical stimulators. I remember them saying something about increasing the blood flow to an area to increase healing and the device working something like acupuncture. The sample massage did feel good.

But why did we need two sets, she wanted to know.

Well, with two sets, you get extra pads for the electrodes and these shower shoe like things you can use for foot pain. You get these things for free if you purchase two stimulators and you have to pay for them (plus postage) if you buy only one.

Do you know that it matters where you place the electrodes?

Yes, I said. Each device comes with a page of instructions that shows the body, marks pain locations, and explains where the electrodes should be placed for each type of pain.

She finally decided that the power of the devices we purchased was lower than what they used and the devices would be unlikely to cause us any harm. That was as close as she got to telling us these devices would be useful.

I think she said just don’t put the electrodes on your head or your spine.

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