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The sounds of silence

Clearly Matthew B. Crawford has had plenty of quiet time to just sit and think.

He's been thinking about silence.

His put his thoughts into words that can be found in the op-ed section of The New York Times last Sunday. They are worth tracking down and reading.

Crawford goes way beyond the common and commonly held complaint that we Americans are exposed to too many messages day in and day out, messages that come from absolutely everywhere. Everyone is trying to get our attention, and it robs us of the ability to actually pay attention to much of anything.

He points out that people's minds are treated as a "standing reserve of purchasing power to be steered according to the innovative marketing schemes hatched by those enjoying silence" in their various well-guarded preserves.

"There are many causes for the increasing concentration of wealth in a shrinking elite, but let us throw one more into the mix: the ever more aggressive appropriations of the attentional commons that we have allowed to take place," he writes.

We should have a right not to be addressed, Crawford concludes, just as we have a right to privacy (that, I add parenthetically, is more and more eroded by every conceivable means).

A moment of silence to address whatever superior authority you believe in about this issue might be appropriate.

It makes sense

Educational specialist Kevin Carey has written a piece about massive online classes that's making its way around the country on FaceBook and in print.

The article appeared in The New York Times editions on Sunday, but I saw it on the internet last week.

Carey basically argues that it is past time for someone to create worthwhile, trustworthy credentials to be awarded to people who complete massive online courses.

I agree. If college is to become affordable again, and if more Americans are going to be able to experience a college education, MOOCs are the way to go. But they will never be the way to go if professors aren't compensated and recognized by their peers for offering these classes and if colleges don't provide something equivalent to course credit, leading, perhaps, to a good online degree that everyone recognizes as valid.

I took a MOOC last fall offered by a physics professor at the University of Virginia. It was great and it was a lot of work, and for completing it I got a certificate. That and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee.

The professor apparently got Zero for his efforts. Not much there to  motivate him to do another. And not much there to motivate me to do another, either.

This is a pressing issue that state legislators need to get on their radar and deal with.

It didn't work out

"Homegrown," a big book featuring posters from the Austin music scene in the late 1960s and 1970s, was debuted Sunday at Texas State University's library.

I went over there Sunday afternoon for the opening of an exhibit of the posters, and to hear a program about the book and the items.

I did buy the book, and am well pleased with it.

But, after waiting for more than 30 minutes for the program to start past the published time, I just left. I didn't want to be there all afternoon.

The reason I had an interest in this particular book and exhibit is because I was editor of the student newspaper in 1968-69 at what was then West Texas State University, and we published a tabloid-style newspaper so that we could upon occasion produce our own rock 'n' roll type poster front pages. We had an artist on the staff who could mimic the psychedelic style, and so we appeared more relevant than we probably were.

We picked up the idea from the music scene in Austin and San Francisco, but particularly Austin because several of us traveled from Canyon and Amarillo to go there for parties, and we were taken by the poster art.

I was surprised that several people had collected the posters and saved them over all these years. But, I'm certainly glad they did.

It's Satire. OK?

I have tried my hand at writing satire from time to time, and inevitably a lot of people don't get it.

Maybe it's because I didn't do it very well.

Or maybe people just have a problem recognizing satire.

Given the popularitiy of The Daily Show and SNL, you'd think the genre would be pretty easy for readers to spot.

When I picked up "The Zone of Interest" before Christmas and started reading, I was struck by Martin Amis' writing, but I found myself, an experienced satirist, wondering, "Is this satire or not?"

It took a little, but soon became obvious. Yes, it was satire.

I guess part of the reason his traditional German-language publisher declined to print the German tranlation of "The Zone of Interest" was because it was satire and a lot of folks wouldn't realize it, and you wouldn't want to start hacking off Germans who are understandably sensitive about the Holocaust.

See, the book is a satire about a key German concentration camp during World War II.

Now I see that Amis does have a publisher, and the book is due out later this year.

I can't wait to see what kind of reception it receives.

I predict it will not be favorable, even though the book is terrific.

Maybe pen and ink was better

Right after the lunch hour today, stuff started going wrong.

First, the copy machine defaulted to a setting I've never seen written in English that I couldn't understand. Maybe if I were a Xerox repairman ...

Then, we couldn't get the fax machine to work.

And now we have just noticed that our middle thermostat is reading 77 degrees, but we had it set at 68.

I work with a couple of people who remember how it was when you had card catalogs, pencils, pieces of paper and maybe a rubber stamp with the date on it.

Days like today make me feel like I'm walking along the razor edge, just one step from losing all control over everything.

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