Pop the Bubble

As most of you know, I am a recovering journalist who deeply appreciates the old adage that if you’re not rocking the boat, you’re not doing your job. When journalists don’t ask difficult questions, they don’t just fail their readers, they fail democracy.

This philosophy also informs the way I teach. Although I insist on civil discussions, I assign material that can confront pleasant sensibilities. The classroom can be an ideal place to learn how to disagree with peers and authority figures in a respectful manner–which is why the Biloxi School District’s decision to pull To Kill A Mockingbird from its middle school curriculum perplexes me. Does the district bubble wrap students during recess? Are they afraid that being challenged is the same thing as being scorned? Do they give high school diplomas, or school participation trophies? Without learning how to confront adversaries in a civil manner–that is, without learning to behave as Atticus Finch behaves–no education is complete.

Harper Lee’s book, of course, is racially charged.

So is everything else in Mississippi.

Discussing either the novel or the state’s affairs requires all sorts of discretion and empathy, which are skills that good teachers model, and that good school districts encourage.

Update: The school district reversed itself and decided to include To Kill a Mockingbird in its curriculum. Good for them.

Posted in Books, Education, Race in Mississippi | 23 Comments

“Borrowing” a Few Moments of Somebody Else’s Time

Help me understand. How can people who have cell phones that cost hundreds of dollars claim that they’re too broke to pay for the films they watch on those devices? How can people at any level of income justify watching pirated material?

My friend Michael Williams, an independent filmmaker based in Mississippi, is watching sales of his work suffer because pirates have put it on streaming sites. Michael is young, talented, and infectiously creative. Why is the electronic world so ambivalent about his well-being?

Posted in Arts, Pop Culture | 24 Comments

When Will the Pendulum Swing to the Middle?

I’ve been trying to make sense of Roy Moore’s victory in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Moore, in case you didn’t know, is a former Alabama judge who was censured for having a display of the ten commandments in his courtroom. He also believes that homosexuality should be illegal, that Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office, and the September 11 attacks were God’s punishment for an America that has strayed too far from a righteous path.

What do voters find appealing about such ideas? Nobody can articulate it. A Republican strategist claims that “the activist, angry wing of the GOP … doesn’t care about progress or making America great again. It lives and breathes on anger and resentment. That’s a difficult movement to direct and control.” If that’s accurate, the long-term consequences for the two-party system–and for the tax code, the entitlement system, health care, and the national defense–will be life changing.

With the pending announcement of Mississippi’s Chris McDaniels to run for statewide or national office, understanding how Moore won the primary is paramount.

Posted in National Politics | 14 Comments

The A Words

Just curious: should we consider appropriation and assimilation dirty words? Could we make just as compelling a case that they constitute forms of flattery?

Posted in Pop Culture, Race in Mississippi | 33 Comments

Why Go to College?

As deadlines for early admission programs approach, it may be worth it to ask yourselves what you want from college. A massive amount of data shows that people with degrees out earn those without them. In that sense, going to college seems to be a sound investment. (I must add, though, that my father is a financial planner, and works every day with people who operate forklifts or work on plumbing who will retire long before I do.)

James Fallows has written about the ageless conundrums faced by college students–and the parents who bankroll them–for decades. He’s posting a series of responses to questions about the value of college on his blog. The difficulty lies in balancing the cost of the education you want against the prospect of future earnings. That’s why graduates in medical fields rack up more college debt than anyone else–they can be assured they’ll get a good return on their investment.

And beyond the issue of cost, you have the issue of pragmatism: is a degree merely a credential–a precursor for some entry level job–or should it reflect a specialized interest of ability, or both? I suspect that all these questions have answers that shift like sandbars. However, since y’all are about to take those courses, and accumulate those debts, it would be wise to contemplate your responses to them.

Posted in Education | 26 Comments

Why Binge?

Over the last year, I’ve watched Ozark, The Man in the Green Castle, Bosch, Dear White People, The Keepers–just to name a few. My viewing involves a modicum of guilt. I’m enjoying myself, but I occasionally find myself watching for the purpose of seeing a season through, rather than for the esthetic pleasure of seeing a great story unfold before my eyes, or for great cinematography, or unbelievable acting. I’ve become more adept at finding plot points that will carry over from one episode to the next.

But I worry that my viewing encourages bad behavior–not on my part, of course, but on the part of studios that no longer feel the need to make taut, well-crafted stories. I haven’t seen a series (or an “original,” as they’re being called now) that wouldn’t make for a better movie. Why spend 12 hours watching something that should be boiled down to 90 minutes? What am I getting from spending the additional time? I’d like to say that the depth of characterization has improved, but I don’t think that’s the case. Is the the future of entertainment?

Posted in Pop Culture | 28 Comments

The Sun Sets on DACA

Donald Trump won the presidency at least in part because he insisted on the need for immigration reform. His efforts to build a wall traversing our border with Mexico have stalled. However, he has recently signed an executive order rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA allowed people who were brought illegally by their parents to stay, provided that they met certain criteria. Is Trump’s new initiative sound? What might his plans reveal about the efficiency of ruling via executive order?

Posted in National Politics | 22 Comments

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