12/3/2019

A Year Without Instagram

I quit Instagram one year ago today. To be precise, I quit posting photos to Instagram; I still open the app occasionally to look at what friends & family have posted. I rarely comment.

My hosted Micro.blog has replaced Instagram as the place I share glimpses into my life. Manton Reece & Jonathan Hays have done a fantastic job with Sunlit, the app I use to post photos to my microblog. It’s sufficiently robust, yet simple enough that it gets out of your way if you don’t want to edit photos in-app. (I prefer Darkroom for editing.) I use Jonathan LaCour’s microgram extension to create my microblog’s Photos page.

I like owning my own photos again. I’m a bit more selective about what I share — my Instagram account was friend-locked from the beginning — but not significantly so. Before our daughter was born, my wife and I decided we would not post photos featuring her face on social media until she was old enough to decide whether she wished this for herself. Despite hearing occasional comments to the effect of, Oh, that’s what she looks like now,” it’s a decision I’m glad we made. I won’t pretend there wasn’t some temptation early on, but I’m not even sure what could tempt me to do such a thing at this stage. Her life is hers to live, and I’ll do my best to honor that and keep her as free of identity mining entanglements as I can.

There’s one thing I miss: hearing from my friends when I post a photo. I miss the sense of connection with them, as most of them live outside my state, in some cases across the country or a continent away. I only know one other person in meatspace who has used Micro.blog. I’ve mentioned it to a few of them as an Instagram replacement when they’ve grumbled about that platform or its corporate owner, but I’m afraid my days of playing tech evangelist are over. I don’t have an appetite for that anymore, and to be honest, I think there are some remaining hurdles to switching to Micro.blog that some of my friends would balk at navigating. Big, privacy-breaching social media platforms have conditioned us to notice friction when we create accounts, because that means we are conditioned to the chutes they’re sending us down for shearing. I’m even more done with that than I am playing tech evangelist.

Tonight, after my daughter goes to bed, I plan to upload my Instagram archive to my microblog via Manson’s importer. I have had my archive ready for import for quite a while, but wanted to save it for today’s anniversary. I may not import every one of them, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of the 1500+ photos find their way to my blog.

Thanks to Manton and Jonathan for making the tools that I use to publish photos in a way that respects my ownership of them and my personhood.

Instagram Micro.blog photography social media
26/2/2019

Fifteen Years on the Journey Home

Fifteen years ago today, I deployed to Iraq. In preparation, I bought my first digital camera1 and MP3 player2. I Tetris’d my gear into seabag so tight that I was able to fit a dozen books3 & three extra cartons of cigarettes4 inside. It felt a bit like Merlin’s carpetbag from The Sword in the Stone5. Leaving Camp Pendleton for Iraq on 26 February 2004 marked the departure point of a lifelong journey — trying to find my way home. Home” is a state of mind, nearly an abstract idea at this point, rather than a place, always on the horizon of realization, while the terrain between it and me plays tricks with perspective to make it seem closer or farther away.

Some days I feel closer to home than others. I feel home is closest when I’m reading to my daughter, waiting for sleep to greet me in the darkness of my bedroom as I lie next to my already-sleeping wife, or feeling the falling snow kiss my face and cling to my eyebrows, lashes, and beard.

Some days I feel I’m unlikely to ever arrive home. I’ll smell the Euphrates as it cascades through Haditha Dam and feel its cooling mist settle on my face. I’ll taste the mutton, flatbread, cucumbers, and tomatoes from Khalid’s, the grungy truck stop along the highway near Trebil. I’ll hear and sense, but not quite see, the AC-130 flying over Fallujah. I’ll hear our interpreter singing his new favorite song, the late Seventies Barry Manilow tune Larry B. & I taught him, as he walks across our FOB. I’ll hear the adhān for Fajr signaling the end of another overnight watch. I’ll see the white conex box huts lined up in long rows, with one missing, extracted like an abscessed tooth; the socket never heals. I’ll hear that shot, and echoed in it, the mortars, the rockets, our outgoing artillery fire. I’ll feel the anger and confusion as fresh as its first day.

I made it back from Iraq. I took pictures at March ARB in Riverside to prove it. The VA periodically tells me I’m still here. Today I’ll have meetings with colleagues who know in the abstract that I once went to Iraq, but it won’t occur to them that I’m always still there in a corner of my brain. Really, I’m still on my journey; it’s a long walk home.


  1. A Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH SD110.

  2. I couldn’t afford an iPod at the time, so I bought a Creative NOMAD Jukebox Zen XTRA (which had more storage but a terrible UI). I still have it, and I t still works.

  3. The first book I read from my cache was Nicholas Lemann’s The Big Test. Deployments involve a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, so I read most of it as we prepared to convoy up from Udari Range in Kuwait to Fallujah.

  4. I smoked unfiltered Gauloises at the time, but couldn’t get down to San Diego to resupply before we left Camp Pendleton, as I didn’t have a car on base at the time. So, I packed a carton of Camel Wides and two cartons of unfiltered Camels bought from the Pulgatraz PX. This purchase became significant only a week or so later.

  5. Books are always first, you know.

Iraq War Marine Corps
11/12/2018

Canceling Subscriptions & Supporting Institutions

I cancelled my subscription to Foreign Policy yesterday afternoon, spurred by an email from FP about an upcoming auto-renewal charge. The quality of the print journal has been in decline for several years, no doubt due, at least in part, to structural challenges the publishing industry faces. I am sympathetic to that; I know firsthand (though at much smaller scale) how hard it is to keep a print publication going in 2018, especially when other outlets are giving similar articles away for free online. In that respect, I feel bad about this parting, because I believe sound, sensation-free journalism & well-informed editorial opinion matters, now as much (or more) than ever. Publications, like FP, that present issues in detailed, yet plain, language have an important place in our culture and provide valuable service to our society.

To cancel, the email indicated I had to call an 800-number during US East Coast business hours, Monday–Friday only, in order to deauthorize the recurring charge to my credit card. There was no way to cancel my subscription through my FP account, or through any other online account service portal. And that, I think, offers a counterpoint: FP s embrace of the web’s digital-first reality has been, well, modest. Yes, FP sent email digests from different desks.” Yes, FP is on social media. Yes, FP eventually started a podcast — in October 2018. (Mid-October 2018.) Yes, FP destroyed its RSS feeds (wait, that move was aligned with contemporary trends in web publication). FP s website redesign, hitched to a brand update, surfaced some content” & buried other pieces & voices while chasing the digital equivalent of glossy visual appeal. Despite being managed by the same publishing entity as Slate, FP wasn’t exactly giving me a compelling sense that it understands how an indispensable, yet boutique, publication needs to evolve in order to survive.

Striking a balance between supporting vital institutions and holding them accountable is never simple, especially in an era when our institutions seem particularly vulnerable. When the person who took my call asked why I was canceling, I said the journal’s quality had really slipped in the eighteen months. How do you send that message in a supportive way that still holds a publication to account?

What good could those subscription dollars do, diverted elsewhere?

media subscriptions
14/9/2018

The President’s Lie

The President’s deceitful insistence that the death toll from Hurricane Maria is orders of magnitude lower than the Puerto Rican government’s official total of 2,975 deaths has me thinking about the following lines from The Teeth Mother Naked at Last,” the great anti-war poem by Robert Bly, published in 1970:

The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies,  
        the priests lie… .  
These lies mean that the country wants to die.  
Lie after lie starts out into the prairie grass,  
like enormous caravans of Conestoga wagons… .

And a long desire for death flows out, guiding the  
        enormous caravans from beneath,
stringing together the vague and foolish words.  
It is a desire to eat death,  
to gobble it down,  
to rush on it like a cobra with mouth open.  
It’s a desire to take death inside,
to feel it burning inside, pushing out velvety hairs,
like a clothes brush in the intestines—
This is the thrill that leads the President on to lie


        *   *   *


Now the Chief Executive enters; the press  
        conference begins:
First the President lies about the date the Appalachian  
        Mountains rose.
Then he lies about the population of Chicago, then he lies  
        about the weight of the adult eagle, then about the  
        acreage of the Everglades

He lies about the number of fish taken every year in the  
        Arctic, he has private information about which city is  
        the capital of Wyoming, he lies about the birthplace of  
        Attila the Hun.

He lies about the composition of the amniotic fluid, and  
        he insists that Luther was never a German, and that  
        only the Protestants sold indulgences,

That Pope Leo X wanted to reform the church, but the  
        "liberal elements" prevented him,  
that the Peasants’ War was fomented by Italians  
        from the North.

And the Attorney General lies about the time the  
        sun sets.

Bly’s poem was a scathing, too-true-to-be-surreal condemnation of Nixonian America. Reading it today, the poem seems less of a portrait of a bygone era, and more like a glance in a continent-spanning mirror.

45 America Nixon poetry politics Vietnam War
11/9/2018

Butchering Badgers: Public University or Abattoir?

On Saturday the president of AAUP Wisconsin tweeted the draft of a revision of University of Wisconsin System’s administrative policy on program productivity,” a revision which mandates the obligatory elimination of academic programs not meeting certain productivity” criteria. The only criteria detailed in the draft policy is a minimum average number of graduates within a five year period1; it does not include (for example) total enrollments, total credit hours of instruction by program faculty, or high-enrollment service courses taught within the program’s array of courses that are subscribed to by multiple programs or that satisfy campus-wide requirements.

Worse, the draft policy appears to be crafted in a way that skirts any vote by the UW System Board of Regents, to which authority over the UW System’s program array is reserved by state law. According to Nick Fleisher, AAUPs state president & associate professor of linguistics at UW-Milwaukee, the positioning of the policy as a revision of UW System Administrative Policy — rather than as a Board of Regents policy — means it would need approval by only the System President, Ray Cross. Cross was appointed by Scott Walker in 2014, and has since presided over a $250 million cut in state funding, the gutting of tenure from state statue, and a contentious annexation of the UW System’s two-year colleges by some of the System’s four-year universities. This last project was planned in secret, or, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the UW System president intentionally kept his plans a secret from campus governance groups so they wouldn’t be thwarted.” The chancellor of those two-year UW campuses found out about the planned elimination of her institutions not from Cross, but when the story leaked statewide ahead of Cross’ announcement. Cross has received no confidence” rebukes from several UW System institutions, including the faculty of both Research I universities (UW–Madison & UW–Milwaukee). Cross received another unambiguous upbraiding from UW-Madison’s chapter of AAUP earlier this year.

As AAUP president Fleisher observed, this policy is a major, direct attack on the faculty’s authority over its curriculum, and an end-run around faculty termination strictures already hollowed-out by the elimination of tenure provisions from state law. As former UW-Madison professor of Educational Policy Studies Sara Goldrick-Rab observed when she left the University in 2016, this is part of a larger plan to vandalize Wisconsin’s greatest asset: its public universities.2 Indeed, taken with the new tenure policy adopted by the Board of Regents in 2016 that included an unprecedented provision to lay off tenured faculty of discontinued academic programs, this draft policy appears to be the next step in a premeditated-in-secret, coordinated assault on Wisconsin’s public universities. Cross’ past actions, particularly his demonstrated contempt for shared governance & his secret planning of massive alterations to the public university system, suggest he should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge

And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.

— W.H. Auden, Under Which Lyre”

Among the programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison alone that would be targeted for elimination if the draft policy were in effect today (B = Bachelor’s degree program, M = Master’s degree program):

  • African Languages & Literature (M)
  • Afro-American Studies (M)
  • Agronomy (M)
  • Art History (M)
  • Biochemistry (M)
  • Biophysics (M)
  • Botany (M)
  • Cancer Biology (M)
  • Cellular & Molecular Biology (M)
  • Comparative Literature & Folklore Studies (B & M)
  • Engineering Physics (B)
  • Entomology (B)
  • Freshwater & Marine Sciences (M)
  • History of Science, Medicine, & Technology (M)
  • Horticulture (M)
  • Jewish Studies (B)
  • Languages & Cultures of Asia (M)
  • Latin (B)
  • Linguistics (M)
  • Music (M)
  • Music Education (M)
  • Neuroscience (M)
  • Plant Breeding & Plant Genetics (M)
  • Plant Pathology (M)
  • Polish (B)
  • Portuguese (M)
  • Poultry Science (B)
  • Scandinavian Studies (M)
  • Slavic Languages & Literatures (M)
  • Zoology (M)

Were this policy currently in effect, UW-Madison would be expected to submit a plan of action to remediate the low producing [sic] program” within one semester; if that deadline were not met, UW System would begin the governance process for program elimination.” Under the current administrative rules referenced in the draft proposal, UW System could then eliminate the program with as little as four weeks’ notice. Should UW-Madison submit a plan of action to remediate a program, the program would receive a stay of execution for three academic years. Should the program not met the criteria after that time, the draft policy’s guidance is bleak: If after three years, [sic] the program still does not improve, UW System will communicate with the institution to eliminate the program using its governance process… .”

The only option to appeal provided to an institution placed in this position is to UW System — under this draft, a self-appointed judge, jury, & executioner. In his above-linked tweet thread, AAUP president Fleisher noted this appears to be an unprecedented power grab by the UW System’s president:

So we have a draft policy in which Ray Cross/UWSA propose to establish criteria for *obligatory* program closure, on the basis of powers it’s not clear they actually have, using a process that requires only appropriate levels of consultation with affected stakeholders”

Curiously, UW System has not elected to comment directly on the draft policy:

A spokesperson for the system initially referred requests for comment to Greg Summers, provost at the Stevens Point campus and architect of its new plan to eliminate 13 programs, including English, history, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish. Via email, Summers said he supported the policy and its inclusion of shared governance and an appeals mechanism. Hesitant to comment in much detail on something that is still in draft form, Summers said that carefully monitoring program enrollments has always been a fundamental responsibility of the [Wisconsin] system.”

Fleisher points out UW System’s authority is bounded by Regent policy, which specifies its limitation to monitoring and analyzing the current program array, including degree productivity, distance education offerings, and modes of delivery; working with UW institutions in identifying gaps in the current array to address changing and emerging workforce and societal needs,” among other duties. Final authority over programs rests, under state law, with the Board of Regents.

Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before
Administration.

— Auden again

I am disgusted by the revelation of this draft policy, but I am not surprised. As I remarked yesterday, to work in public higher education in Wisconsin since 2011 is to work in institutions being sabotaged, deliberately & acutely, by the state’s own leadership. The vandalism is unrelenting & ever-worsening, amounting to an absolute looting of a century-plus of public investment in a world-class university system by resentful, obdurate, contemptuous hatchet men. The goal: the extirpation of faculty & staff dedicated to the search for truth, in favor of the narrow vision of a university intended merely to develop human resources to meet the state’s workforce needs.

There aren’t enough tourniquets for the wounds inflicted by these butchers.


  1. The criteria specify metrics at the bachelor’s & master’s levels; doctoral programs are assessed separately accordingg to specific criteria established by the doctoral granting [sic] institutions.

  2. UW System’s crass evaluation of the value of the importance of its institutions to the state by an economic impact study is nonetheless breathtaking: $24 billion.

academic freedom higher education University of Wisconsin Wisconsin
5/9/2018

Society starts at dawn.”

I’m not sure what the Styles Desk is, but The New York Times recently published one of the Styles Desk writers’ reflections on the experience of delayed sleep phase syndrome:

My father, who was an extreme lark, would wake up by 6:30 a.m. and storm into my room, huffing, Society starts at dawn,” as he yanked off my bedcover.

Growing up, I endured a similar perspective shared by one of my parents.1 I’m willing to bet the author’s father, who uttered the statement in the title, was not only a lark, but an extrovert. I can’t think of a statement more wholly encompassing both modes of being.

I suffer chronic sleep deficit. That is, I have a so-called sleep problem, although technically, that is not accurate.

I sleep fine. It is everyone else who has a problem with it.

My wife, who sent me a link to the piece, says this is me. She’s not wrong.

Williams’ experience of the working world mirrors my own. I don’t find much comfort in that, though it’s nice to know someone out there with a larger platform is willing to engage the problem.

By necessity, much of my life has occurred on lark’s hours. We all, larks & night owls, are shoehorned into them during our school years.2 Even the relative freedom of graduate school was a double-edged sword. I did most of my reading, and almost all of my writing, during the late night hours. This was ideal from a working perspective; the problem was that my days were a jumble of courses and teaching, and I taught every semester. There were definite times for certain kinds of work, but there was always additional work with the potential to be done at all times.3

[A]bout 40 percent of the population are morning people, 30 percent are evening people, and the remainder land somewhere in between. Night owls are not owls by choice,” he writes. They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hard wiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.”

There have been three times when I’ve felt my hours matched my chronotype: working a factory’s third shift in high school, working afternoons/nights in a high-end restaurant, and overnight watch in Iraq. All three point to a reason why I feel less sanguine than the author about traditional 9-5 workplaces’ accommodations for chronotype.

During my senior year in high school, I took a job (through a temp agency) working in a factory that screen-printed labels on bottles for major cosmetic companies. It was, in some ways, a great job — it planted seeds that grew, with sufficient fertilizer, into more thoughtful perspectives later in my life. In some ways it was a lousy job — I was working a minimum-wage gig from 11pm–7am, then going to school from about 10am–3pm, then engaging in after-school activities until 7pm or later. I didn’t do this for the full year, thank goodness; it lasted some number of months, but I no longer remember how many. Had I not still been in school, my hours outside work would probably have been filled by a second (also hourly) job. As it was, by that point I’d already given up on going to a four-year college after high school, so it was a good introduction to the life that lay ahead of me in the restaurant world. Second and third shift work schedules are a reality for many folks who have little choice but to simply endure it, whether or not they would choose it for themselves if given the opportunity.

When I was working in the restaurant — typically 4pm-midnight Monday–Thursday, 3pm–1am Fridays, & 10am–2am on Saturdays — my hours were actually set by lark-driven society. I simply had the luxury of working in a service industry that catered to larks’ desires for their leisure time. This is good work for a night owl, assuming a sustainable position can be found.4 I was a full-time student at the same time I was a full-time line cook; it was simply unsustainable.

At one point during my deployment to Iraq, I was assigned the 6pm–6am watch shift. I was the only one awake on our tiny FOB for the entirely of that time; the platoon commander, the sergeant of the guard, even the squad on watch all would sleep for part of those hours. Once I got over the eerie feeling of being the only one awake through the night within hours of our FOB, I came to love it. The most analogous roles in US civilian life are the folks who care for & keep watch on us overnight: emergency services, night staffs of hospitals & care centers, & infrastructure workers. Again, these are good gigs for night owls, provided they fit with the rest of one’s life.

Society likes morning people. Loves them, actually. Early risers tend to be more punctual, get better grades in school and climb up the corporate ladder. These so-called larks are celebrated as the high achievers, the apple polishers, the C.E.O.s.

The author of the Times piece focuses on hacker hours,” revealed by shifts in the tech industry & creative sectors” that suggest the new workplace culture is less about punctuality and more about creativity and breaking the rules.” That may be the case in these spheres of labor, and shifts there may drive shifts in related industries. But I think there’s an inescapable gravity to the point made by the author’s father: whether or not the larks’ hegemony over society’s work-time structure is total or partial, our society will continue expect that certain kinds of workers will always maintain daytime hours — including healthcare practitioners, workers in the trades, and educators — especially elementary & secondary teachers. While some people might be happy to be able to see their optometrist in the evening, or have access to a plumber’s services at midnight, elementary & secondary teachers will be among the very last to see a significant change in their workday.

In a world where a dual income has become necessary to simply fall behind less rapidly, schools preform the vital function of caring for children’s needs during the hours claimed by many parents’ employers. A work hours shift by employers will not immediately precipitate a shift in school schedules, which have proved remarkably resilient to broader societal changes, including the dwindling necessity to peg the school calendar to the seasonal demands of agrarian life. Should employers liberate their workers from the hegemony of the larks — either out of benevolence, or velvet-gloved coercion — workers with children will feel the strain of reconciling their new work schedules with the schedules of their children. No doubt some affluent, voucher-cashing private schools will market themselves as accommodating the modern schedules of their equally affluent client families. But can one seriously imagine the public school system, with its constituency of middle & working class families stretched ever thinner, shifting either quickly or uniformly? Perhaps the unchecked rise of service sector jobs, and the continued atrophy of industrial labor, will drive such a change. It could happen.

The trends I’ve observed in my lifetime don’t support such wishcasting. What I’ve observed is life becoming economically more untenable for most of us, while our labor is demeaned & devalued. What I’ve observed are major economic & quality-of-life gains being realized by an elect few, while the rest of us are coerced to go along with the fiction that their success & the country’s gross economic production has some relevance to the majority’s increasingly marginal existence.

Until something is done to address the fundamental inequity of our economic system — something that frees everyone to find work that recognizes their dignity, matches their skills & experience, and fits the tempo of their life — I’m afraid any implication that most folks — night owls as well as larks — could find work that embraces their genetic makeup is purely pie in the sky.


  1. It had a corollary: Nothing good happens after midnight.”

  2. It seems that school schedules have become more ridiculous than when I was in school, to the point where there’s pretty broad consensus much agree that they’re unhealthy for kids. At the same time, thanks to the working world that has become so warped, we’re also unwilling to do a thing about it.

  3. I don’t think my experience was unusual in that regard.

  4. Back then, the only way one could reasonably afford health insurance on a line cook’s wages was to be married to someone with a benefits package.

health labor society wellness