A Quick Correction Regarding Our System

In an interview with a radio host this morning, Gov. Phil Bryant responded to a question about legislation to change the state flag by saying that the issue ought to be put before the people because we live in a “direct democracy.”

Actually, we don’t.

We live in a representative democracy. That was the intent of the framers from the get go, as we will see when we turn to Federalist Paper #10 next month.

Gov. Bryant’s comments result from his broader irritation with the media. He also said in the interview that he couldn’t talk about anything that’s doing well in Mississippi without being asked questions about “flags and statues,” which he found “frustrating” because such questions make it harder to put the state in the best possible light.

The interview raised a couple of interesting questions. First, should we trust voters to make the best decisions about sensitive issues? If not, where should we turn? Why would leaders want referendums on such issues? Second, is it the right time for Mississippi to worry about rehabilitating its image, or are there other issues to address?

Posted in Politics, Race in Mississippi | 22 Comments

Enjoy the eclipse, y’all

Thinking about the sun for the last month or so has brought me to an obvious question: what has prevented sunbelt states like Mississippi from investing more heavily in solar power? For the amount of money wasted on the Kemper Power Plant–the total costs for the plant now top $6 billion–Mississippi Power could have subsidized rooftop solar panels for nearly half the state’s households.

Some of the challenges faced by renewable energy sources are regulatory; some involve engineering. What will it take to make Mississippi greener?

Posted in Politics, Science | 24 Comments

Welcome to MSMS; Tragedy in Charlottesville

Welcome aboard, Class of 2019! Welcome back, Class of 2018! If you haven’t blogged here before, the ground rules follow. All posts must be respectful and must refrain from ad hominems; discuss ideas rather than each other. If you can link articles that inform your position, please do so. Only MSMS students are allowed to post.

We’ll discuss tough things from beginning to end. Up first: President Trump’s statement about the violence that erupted during alt-right protests in Virginia this weekend. Here’s the text:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”

What is President Trump trying to say? What have so many people taken issue with the way he expressed himself? Is there a wiser course of action?

Update: President Trump spoke on the matter again yesterday. Here’s the New York Times report of his comments.

Posted in National Politics | 20 Comments

Municipal Elections Took Place Last Night. . .

. . .and there were tight races all over the state. A few observers have begun banging the drum for an interesting change to election laws: they would like to require candidates for public office to offer proof that they have paid their taxes. The origin of this demand, so far as I can tell, is a blend of skepticism born of Watergate and of our current president. I suspect substantial legal barriers would prevent such proposals from making it past legal challenges. Would they help or hinder our form of democracy?


Posted in Politics | 21 Comments

One for the Late American Drama class

What questions do you want to ask Wayne Self about Upstairs?

Posted in Books, Education, Gender Issues, Music | 11 Comments

A Chance to be 49th

Mississippi doesn’t embrace many chances to avoid winning last place, but here’s an easy one: we’re one of the last two states to recognize “Confederate Memorial Day.” Alabama is the other one. Regardless of what one feels about our state flag–I think it’s hopelessly tone-deaf at best–it ought to be easy to avoid a state holiday that by definition will alienate a substantial portion of its citizens. How wonderful it would be to let Alabama serve the union as the last reminder of a state that legitimized slavery.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, New Orleans is removing four monuments to the confederacy. I have as many misgivings about this as I do about today’s state holiday. I prefer what’s happened to the confederate statue at Ole Miss–an idea that seems more respectful of all parties involved.

UPDATE: A tip of the hat to Terrence Johnson, an MSMS alumnus who shared Jarvis DeBerry’s strong argument against leaving the statues up. (DeBerry is an MSMS alumnus also–he spoke at last year’s graduation.)

Posted in Politics, Pop Culture, Race in Mississippi | 29 Comments

Contemporary Literature Possibilities

Greetings all. The list below constitutes possibilities for the contemporary literature course I will teach in the fall semester. I still need to trim about four titles; it’s possible, even now, to consider a replacement text. I want your input.

No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy*

Desperation Road, Michael F. Smith*

Salvage the Bones, Jessmyn Ward*

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas*

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi*

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini*

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz*

The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Looking for Alaska, John Green

Wonder, RJ Palacio

The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri*

Natchez Burning, Greg Iles*

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belford*

Flash Boys, Michael Lewis (non-fiction)*

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (non-fiction)*

Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance (non-fiction)

UPDATE: *denotes final selections.

Posted in Books, Uncategorized | 30 Comments

How to Teach

During a recent walk around campus, a colleague of mine mentioned a crisis in the classroom. “I’ve come to realize that our biggest problem with students isn’t that they don’t have an attention span,” the professor said. “It all has to do with content. They live in a world where they can have any question answered in a matter of seconds. So they see learning content as something of a waste of time, yet there’s no way for me to assess what they know until I can see that they’ve mastered the content. It’s a kid of impasse.”

Content in the humanities, of course, involves a different skill set than those required upstairs. Yet I admit I am vaguely horrified by the notion that students may believe that all they need to know about William Faulkner or Lorraine Hansberry can be learned from Sparknotes. If content is merely paraphrase, then we are all damned to a world without nuance.

My colleague has expressed a legitimate fear. If Google and Khan Academy can deliver content for free, why waste money on teachers? On brick-and-mortar schools? On going to Vanderbilt instead of East Armpit Tech?

However, it also seems to me that the breadth of content available makes the work we do as students and teachers even more important. Information without context cannot lead to wisdom–heck, it can’t even lead to productivity. I cannot promise what the classrooms of the future will look like, but I hope they look like the ones we have at MSMS.

Posted in Education | 31 Comments

The Internet and Privacy

Earlier this week, Congress sent to Pres. Trump a bill that would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sell data regarding users’ searches and browsing history to third-party advertisers. This made me wonder, once again, what expectations computer users should have regarding privacy. (I’m not sure that I have such expectations; do you? Would you be incensed if, for instance, an employer called you on the carpet for posting on social media while you were supposed to be working?)

On a more comic note: I’ve noticed people bringing their smartphones with them everywhere: doctors’ offices, churches, bathrooms, restaurants–everywhere. Smartphones are the new cigarettes: we reach for them as soon as we wake up, enjoy them after a meal, use them as a means of introduction. We are as addicted to them as we once were to nicotine.

Or so I think.

For people your age, I wonder: is there a place or a circumstance so sacred that smartphones are not invited? Are there times when you were shocked that you saw people using their phones?

Posted in National Politics, Pop Culture, Social Media | 38 Comments

More Cyber espionage

Wikileaks recently released information about the ways the government collects information for (alleged) security purposes. The “Vault 7” papers are hardly surprising. Anyone who’s posted anything anywhere should be aware that there’s no erasing a digital footprint.

Yet I must admit that I find Wikileaks perplexing. I’m not thrilled by government surveillance. Nor do I like the way Wikileaks can destabilize our already precarious political environment. What do y’all think about Wikileaks and groups like it?

Posted in National Politics, Science | 31 Comments