1913 class and intercollegiate debaters Frank Howard Baxter, Edward James Boulester, Harold W. Browning, Henry Ellis Davis, Leroy Merton Sherwin, Aloy Soong, Leroy Allen Whittaker

Source: University of Rhode Island, “The Grist 1913” (1913). Yearbooks. Book 78. http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/yearbooks/78/ 


What do you love in your home spaces? We begin this week’s episode of the Beauty Salon with the sounds of a paint roller to start off a conversation on decorating our home spaces. Between wall colors, vacuum lines, and sheep lawnmowers, we think about decorating and making a space our own. In Decoding Rhode Island, we chat with Courtney Bauer of Lou Lou’s Decor fine home furnishings and interior design in Portsmouth, RI about how to create timeless and livable interiors.

(Image via Lou Lou’s Decor)



The US must stop the senseless criminalization of Carl Sagan, Google thinks.

The US must stop the senseless criminalization of Carl Sagan, Google thinks.

Back to school—and you know what that means! Time to put your pre-teen daughter on a juice cleanse!

Back to school—and you know what that means! Time to put your pre-teen daughter on a juice cleanse!

Pope Frank is doing OK

Your proprietress is an atheist Catholic—meaning I think there have been and are still theologians who have very much to say about both the human condition and the ideals greater than ourselves, but do not believe in the existence of an actual higher power despite having gone through all the official rituals of Catholicism.

I’ve been deeply intrigued by Pope Francis, who seems to hit most of the right notes (though has not softened Rome’s relationship with American nuns). Most recently, the Pope indicated that he has no objection to gay priests, and refuses to judge a matter between a person and God. My one reservation is the Pope’s refusal to step outside of his own personal position and speak with the force of doctrine for the Church. 

Hans Küng has me reconsidering that position. If I read Küng right, Pope Frank’s refusal to speak with a voice beyond his own as a man is a radical shift in papal discourse. Küng is very optimistic about the Pope’s interest in stripping the Papacy of power (Küng, a priest, had his official dispensation to teach Catholic theology revoked by none other than Joseph Ratzinger after publishing a book denying the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, and was an architect of Vatican II). He argues that from the choice of name on, the Pope has positioned himself as an opponent of the god-like Papal figure concerned with consolidating Vatican power.

It is astonishing how, from the first minute of his election, Pope Francis chose a new style: unlike his predecessor, no miter with gold and jewels, no ermine-trimmed cape, no made-to-measure red shoes and headwear, no magnificent throne.

Astonishing, too, that the new pope deliberately abstains from solemn gestures and high-flown rhetoric and speaks in the language of the people.

And finally it is astonishing how the new pope emphasizes his humanity: He asked for the prayers of the people before he gave them his blessing; settled his own hotel bill like anybody else; showed his friendliness to the cardinals in the coach, in their shared residence, at the official goodbye; washed the feet of young prisoners, including those of a young Muslim woman. A pope who demonstrates that he is a man with his feet on the ground.

He (Pope Frank, who I think would forgive me the familiarity) has reversed the traditional power structure from Pope to Cardinal to Bishop to priest, and has instead argued for the primacy of local parishes. 

Thus, it would not be surprising that the Pope refuses to speak in the form of doctrine over his flock. He believes that the papacy must serve the parish, because this is where the life of the church—in its relation to individual human lives of the believers—should be located.

Küng compares St. Francis of Assisi to his contemporary Pope Innocent III. Innocent III represents the height of papal political and economic power, and sets the model for the all-powerful Pope. We would normally think of Innocent III as the more worldly: he was shrewd, eloquent and a gifted diplomat. In comparison, St. Francis would appear to be an idealist. But in a deft reversal, Küng argues that it was Francis who had his feet on the ground. The life of poverty means one must live close to ground and face the difficulties of the world in a much more intimate way. After all, poverty puts one only a bad break away from catastrophe. By reversing the structure of power and worldliness, Pope Frank leaves God’s judgment to God, and human judgment to one another. He does not pretend to speak with God’s voice. For Küng, such an act is nothing short of the most revolutionary Papacy since the Middle Ages, and a glimmer of hope that we might finally expand the reforms begun in Vatican II.

Thus, the early Christian basic concerns of Francis of Assisi remain even today questions for the Catholic church and now for a pope who, indicating his intentions, has called himself Francis. It is above all about the three basic concerns of the Franciscan ideal that have to be taken seriously today: It is about poverty, humility and simplicity. This probably explains why no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis: The expectations seem to be too high.

The challenge for Pope Frank will be whether or not he can overcome the power of the Roman Curia, who have no interest in giving up their current positions. Thus, the question of reforming Papal doctrine is still pressing, and still open. Pope Frank, who has been thusfar unafraid to challenge tradition, gives Küng hope.

Any other weekend theologians or ethicists should really read the whole piece: "The Paradox of Pope Francis," Hans Küng, National Catholic Reporter, May 21 2013

On the unending scam that is education technology

I have no issue with technology as a concept. I love both techne and logos! But I am not amused with using education technology to cover over scams aimed at the most vulnerable in society.

So Boundless.com, we need to talk. Let’s have a heart-to-heart. 

Boundless bills itself as a righteous internet-age free textbook emporium, but you just have to lift the hood to quickly realize that they are not philanthropists— with a few sad “open” exceptions, Boundless mostly repackages stuff from the digital commons, call it an “alternative textbook” and then charges $19.99 for essentially a cloned version of existing textbooks, little different from internet content farms, but with a premium attached. Here’s Inside Higher Ed on the inevitable publisher lawsuits: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/03/08/open-source-textbook-company-shifts-tactics-fight-publishers. Interestingly, the IHE story never indicates that Boundless charges for these books—in fact, almost none of the media about Boundless points this out, but one click on a title of a popular textbook, and you get a sales pitch (screen-shot evidence below). 

Boundless, of course, position themselves as savvy little Davids taking on the textbook publishing Goliaths, but I see a company that is busily privatizing and monetizing the digital commons. The student testimonials seem to suggest Boundless want students to use their cobbled-together spark notes as a replacement for a handful of highly popular course-assigned textbook, selling product they have no right to reproduce commercially at a profit. If you want to contemplate suicide, know that Boundless happily displays its commendation from Creative Commons for licensing their original (unremixed) content under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. And then sells the stuff when modified. Boundless claims that they have an “army of Ph.Ds” and “domain experts” that “curate [insert Pee Wee’s Playhouse scream for the word of the day]  and organize high-quality, openly-licensed content” (read—we rip off the book, and add in things like publicly posted class notes and slides). And no, they don’t ever actually explain who this army is. The “communications” offerings are one sad open public speaking textbook that is then “remixed” to be essentially generic versions of common texts, like Stephen Lucas’s Art of Public Speaking (my first textbook as an instructor!), if you’re willing to shell out $20. 

PROTIP!  If all of your offerings are about public speaking, Boundless, it’s “Communication” not “Communications.” “Communications” = communication technology. Mass communications. Not communication as a phenomenon, as is public speaking. I’d have thought that your curators would be smart enough to know that little “s” means a lot in the field. You know, the “domain” in which you have an “army of experts?”

Boundless is funded by a cadre of venture capitalists: Venrock, Kepha Partners, Founder Collective, and Nextview Ventures. In this Marketplace podcast interview (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/education/education-start-looks-disrupt-textbook-market), founder Ariel Diaz directly claims all the content is free, and when specifically asked about the end-game, he never mentions how they plan to monetize their model. Sounds weird that venture capitalists (read, people looking for a return on investment) are all getting in on a “free” thing, right? Venrock =  Rockefeller Ventures, a fund started in 1969 to house all that Rockefeller cash that has gotten very tech heavy of late (though their favorite company to highlight has just developed a medication for irritable bowl syndrome and constipation!). Kepha Partners, founded by a former Bain and Company dude, “goes in early to make companies happen” by “sourc[ing] and recruit[ing] trusted-and-tried executives from our own personal networks” (i.e “for a million dollars, we expect to be able to make our Yale buddy CEO”). Founders Collective does small seed investments in basically any internet company that ends in “ly” (seriously, “Contently?” Die in a fire), “ify” (you just need to “Happify” yourself. I am not kidding), replaces an i with a y or includes the word “me.” They believe it is very important to have pictures taken that make them look like kool west coast digital dudes and dudettes who like awesome bands rather than lame finance bros and broettes from the dour East: http://foundercollective.com/people. NextView Ventures basically does whatever Kepha does and has a deeply annoying web layout that I’m sure someone thinks is innovative or disruptive, but really just wastes space (like Boundless, they seem to think that tablet-friendly layouts are universal, which means you need to scroll ENDLESSLY). Looks like old, venerable Venrock sucked in a bunch of little tech-happy investors. They all specialize in early development, which may explain why no one points out that Boundless charges—I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a free service in concept to build good will (or better, good press) and infiltrate edu tech networks, helped along by optimistic rubes, that then filled with “trusted-and-tried executives” and now is rolling out the business plan. All upstanding citizens that clearly have the best interest of students at heart. They are all from Boston, which is a pretty good argument against Boston.

So here’s how the con goes:

1) Get on the privatized digital ed tech bandwagon with a quickness

2) Analyze the best-selling college textbooks in the country to determine the basic content of each. This cuts out labor cost #1: private income to a handful of professors (though, at this stage, the textbook industry has little moral high ground).

3) Reproduce this content with slight variations, using free digital commons material paid for by the government, academic institutions, or made through virtuous free human production. This cuts out labor cost #2: public, university funding of academic production and research that supports the author-professor, while exploiting the free products of governmental and academic production and research.

4) Sell yourself to venture capital firms hungry for privatized higher ed + tech, complete with do-gooder halo

5) Go on a media offensive, highlighting your freeness and do-gooderness while liaising with your venture capitalist buddies about monetization, I mean, “making your business happen.”

5) “Remix” the content from your basic free clone using Ph.D freelance labor created by the higher ed gold rush labor glut, who now have no tenure options (this I have no evidence for—but the only way to take Boundless’ word that they have an army of experts—I have searched for but found no explanation of what this means—is to presume this is low paid or even free piecemeal work). This cuts out labor cost # 3: tenured professorship.

6) Start charging for the remixing (but not the content! technically!), undercutting the publisher for content produced by a particular professor’s private labor, who has been supported by public and university funding, while basking in the glow of your do-gooder media that says you work for free.

7) Keep the digital march forward, where students are charged for free material compiled by underemployed laborers facing increasingly poor job prospects, undermining high quality public education further (we’re cheaper! And maybe even “free!” For a shitty product that you shouldn’t have had to pay for!)

Lather, rinse, repeat. The “digital revolution” justifies cuts to higher ed, which makes up for the shortfall with higher admissions, which leads to a labor glut, which gives Boundless its exploitable labor pool that represents its only (-digital infrastructure, -HAHAHAHA executive pay) production costs, which pushes the “digital revolution”…..

So with this dynamic clear, Boundless, do you want to defend your labor practices? I am absolutely DYING for a debate, should you think my characterizations unfair. Here’s my offer. Let this stand as my initial volley. You’re welcome to make your own case. Then we’ll focus on the arguments we’ve made and debate it out. You have a public speaking textbook at your disposal, as well as an “army of experts.” I’ll take each one by one, kung fu style. Otherwise, get out of my area of expertise and never ever show your silly head again.

(ADDED: images)

With friends like these…

I was not yet acquainted with the hilariously scammy FacultyRow.com  (The Official Home of America’s Top Faculty™) until I got an email letting me know that I was “being reviewed” for invitation to the “private, invitation-only, global network of accomplished academics.” Which is weird, because it indicated I had submitted my name for admission, and I had not (even checked my email to make sure I hadn’t had a case of the “disruptions”). One glance at the “about us” section told me all I needed to know (notations, obviously, mine):

Oh no, I might not be invited! To party with Harold Koh! #reallyharoldkoh?

In conclusion: