24 May 2013

Zero Sense for Ms. Wilmot

A short while ago, a young precocious black student named Kiera Wilmot accidentally made a mildly exothermic reaction by combining aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner as a chemistry experiment before school. The powers that be freaked out, called it a bomb and charged her with multiple felonies. She was handcuffed in her own school and lead out like a criminal to face charges carrying over a decade in jail time. Fortunately, the charges were dropped but there were still serious and unnecessary repercussions for this tiny accident. I will not dwell on this because she has written up her own experience quite eloquently and I do not want to speak for her.  Here's the link, please read it it is short and sweet: Kiera Wilmot: An Unexpected Reaction, Huffington Post, May 2013

This young woman writes better than most of my colleagues who are PhD candidates and Doctoral degree holders! She is clearly contrite, but why the school felt the need to expel her over something so minor is beyond me. From her post:

"Right now I'm at Bill Duncan Opportunity Center, which is for students who were kicked out of school. People are teasing me and calling me a terrorist. And the school is actually quite easy. I'm not getting the challenge that I used to have. I don't have homework. There is no German class and there is no orchestra. I probably couldn't even bring my cello because I was told the students would steal it. "
It's heartbreaking to read this. Those who push the boundaries of the system are the ones who are most likely to break things and the most likely to be caught in the jaws of the zero-tolerance trap.  We like to pretend that this system it is colorblind, but there clearly still is discression in how things are defined. If this was a young blond girl with a rich daddy, I'm sure not a thing would have happened because the principal would have been cruicified. I am fortunate that none of this affected me (doesn't hurt that I didn't get to academia through a traditional route), but as a black man I am sure I would have gotten the 9th degree as well.

All human organizations come down to, at the end, a person to person interaction. The fact that our system feels the need to strip almost all judgement from those lieutenants on the front lines like teachers and principals is beyond me.  All this can do is lead to worse outcomes on the aggregate just to prevent some of the most ridiculous actions from those who should not have any power in the first place. Not to mention all the frustration and sense powerlessness this instills in our bureaucrats which is worth an investigation in and of itself.

I'm sure this will not get the press it deserves because the DA's office here is not stupid enough to grind this young woman's bones to dust, but this is just another example of the horrible injustices that go on every day in our academic institutions. If the administrators will not show any judgement, then how can we expect the students to learn it?

22 May 2013

Post about not posting

I haven't been writing in this blog recently. While I have a lot to think and vent on, it's a little too personal for this venue so I have refrained for now.  Maybe someday it will get rehashed here. Until then, maybe I can get some better ideas for what to blog.

16 May 2013

On Beauty

For some reason or another I've been thinking a lot about beauty and grace. Why is it that these ideas and things that embody them transcend cultures? I am convinced that they are a more basic and primal form of communication that we are only rarely able to tap into if we are lucky. My thesis is that beauty comes from suffering; more precisely it comes from speaking universally through the only commonality across all human life outside of the basics required for survival: the inevitability and fear of death. I find this to be axiomatic, although I'm sure that you, dear reader, may take more convincing. That's fair. I have no way to do that now, but think about the most beautiful thing that lingers in your memory and think of why it is so transfixing. I bet that the fragility of life and inevitability of death and suffering comes through it in some manner.

09 May 2013

Growing Pains

Writing a blog is very hard, especially when you don't have an audience. It's impossible to not have the feeling that you are a bit crazy, speaking to some non-entity, this fantastical potential reader. If there is no audience, the blog is effectively a diary that you are broadcasting to the world. It's incredibly narcissistic, as if your life is interesting enough and your opinions are interesting enough to fore people to read. I will try to avoid this diary like style so that in the unlikely occasion that anyone other than me (when I edit) reads what I write. There are all kinds of things to explore in that vein, but I'm too tired to go down that metaphysical rabbit-hole. So many possibilities!

Anyhoo, I know from the guys who went from writing to themselves to making it big, like Megan McArdle who I started reading in her Jane Galt days, that writing on a regular basis is critical. I do not think this is for the audience. If you can write wonderfully like some weekly bloggers, you will have hundreds of people who read you. The news will spread (eventually) that delicious free beer is being poured at your blog once a week (to make a metaphor train-wreck, apologies!). It is, however, very hard to have the focus to keep one's writing sharp. The problem is that it takes a while for you to be found, and it's very likely that you just cannot find something to write about on a daily basis. If you cannot keep going long enough to me discovered, it is clearly impossible to reach a following. Honestly, I don't care if anyone but the Google spiders ever comes and reads this. I am going to continue speaking my truth semi-anonymously into the ether and if anyone cares to listen, they can come by and even shout back!

07 May 2013

An Accidental Iconoclast's misson statement

Hello world!

This is my first post, so I would like to give an introduction and explain how I came to my (ever evolving) political philosophy. For any project to meaningful and successful, it must have a clear and easily stated mission statement, and I hope that I will at least come close on the first try. A great example is the founding document of Intel, it still directs and informs all actions of that company, which has dominated it's field for near 40 years. Here goes nothing....

I am a political vagabond, yet have an urge to see the truth, justice and good political practice carried out in my country. We are far from that being a possibility. I come from a progressive town, and was naturally a bit disturbed by the unexamined priors of that political group. But as I looked to the right for a home, I saw it was no different. If I someone put a gun to my head and told me to state a political philosophy or to meet my maker, I would choose left-libertarian. However, I am uncomfortable with that label. I chafe against the need to protect and perpetuate the movement over aligning ones though with the truth and the core principle of one's morals and principles, as well as what one perceives to be the most efficacious and just way to proceed towards that goal. Arguments to expediency, while valid, make me squirm a bit. So do arguments to one's past actions or political philosophy when critiquing an argument. Any good argument or proposal must be atomic; It must be capable of being judged based solely on it's own words and merits as if there were no author credit on the masthead. I will try to live up to this idea, and judge other's work accordingly. I am only human though.

In terms of my own 'moral calculus', I value in this order:
1) Personal autonomy
2) Maximal freedom from intentional harm from others
3) Human life
4) Human welfare
5) Our environment

All of these are obviously interlinked and politics are famously messy and disgusting for one trained in the sciences or engineering as I was. One also cannot just go down the list in order and decide this way, but it at least gives some order and accountability to my thoughts. Perhaps I will come up with a coherent name for my beliefs, but I'm not sanguine about the possibilty. But one cannot avoid one without seceding ones moral judgements to others. I refuse to do that. I cannot accept living a life I would not feel is defensible and honorable. When we must depart this mortal coil, all we have is the works we produced as we lived and our reputation to perpetuate our names. I want to be remembered as a man of honor who did his best to live up to his ideals and help his fellow man according to his own strengths and weaknesses. By documenting my thoughts here publicly, I will not have to hold onto them, and can potentially crystallize them into a superior and more correct form. Maybe I can even have someone read it. Even more ambitious a goal would be to change some minds and in some small way improve our nation and our world. It's a long shot, but we must accept and be accountable to our dreams!

I will attempt to have my blog and writings be informed by and live up to the lofty goals I have set down in this document, although I am sure I will fall short. It helps to have high standards though. Please note, this will not be all politics. I am mainly starting this to take pressure of my facebook feed. People, bless their hearts, are not looking to facebook or twitter with critical though on a regular basis, and I would like not to infuriate my friends and give them a false impression of my beliefs.

-An Accidental Iconoclast

The Pigford case and lazy examination of those on your side

Right now, I am procrastinating on my graduate level condensed matter physics take-home final, so I do not have the time to give topic this the effort it is due. This post will be a place-holder. However, reading Mr. Freidsdorf's excellent post on this will give you all you need to know, and whatever I will add will be window dressing. Expect an update whenever. Since I am only talking to the ether now, I know there is no rush.

How Did Progressive Journalists Get Pigford So Wrong? by Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic Monthly

He has listed other links there if you want to get further into the weeds, so I will not reinvent the wheel.