Don’t Run It Like a Business

My Google Reader feed might strike some people as random.  I follow outdoorsy sites like semi-rad and backpacker, IT-centric ones like The DailyWTF,  the Chronicle of Higher Ed, foodie sites, classical and folk music streams, Harvard Business Review, comics, and a pile of others.  But my heart has been with non-profits over the last five years or so, and so has a lot of my thought. I’ve heard a lot of lamenting about how education (primary and secondary) is in decline, how the arts are in decline, even a discussion lately about eliminating the charitable deduction to help avoid the “fiscal cliff.”  Charitable deductions are the foundation of the non-profit sector: you the taxpayer give money to a non-profit, and then deduct that gift on your taxes.  Everyone wins.  But eliminating it to shore up a poorly managed national budget budget is like a corporation stiffing its employees on pay because it’s behind on the loan for the corporate jet. But I don’t want to get too far down that rabbit hole: I want to talk about the real problem.  The real problem is this ever-growing notion that the government, non-profits, and schools should be “run like a business.”  Really.  On the surface, running a school like a business has a lot of merit.  I should know: I was at CMU when their brand new president, the spectacularly bejowled Leonard Plachta of the Accounting department, instituted just such a plan. The story  goes something like this.  He’d inherited a mess- huge deficits, declining enrollment- so when he came out with a solid plan to balance the books, grow the...

Less is More, More or Less.

After finishing my doctorate a year and a half ago, I’ve had to come to a rather uncomfortable conclusion: no matter how much I like animal crackers, I’m not a kid anymore.  But animal crackers are still delicious.  Especially the ones with that pink sparkly frosting. I have a new job I’m starting after Christmas, so the past few days (also known as the last few days) at my current job have been odd.  I’m the same age as a couple people down the hall, but operate from a totally different point of view.  For me, this job is just sort of an adventure.  It’s not a sense of identity, it’s not my retirement plan, it’s not something that shapes my decisions or my life.  I don’t have any loyalty to this place, any more than I would have loyalty to one pair of shoes over another.  I show up and do web-programmer things and get paid real-world dollars.  With those real-world dollars I can buy real-world animal crackers, but also clothes that fit, food that tastes slightly better, and furniture that will bear the weight of an adult, no matter what angle at which they try to sit on it.  But compare that to the lives of my coworkers, some of whom never went to college at all and are on their second decade of 9-5 work weeks, and you see why I think something is odd. A normal white-collar worker in their 30s will have figured out the furniture thing, bought a few cars over the years, burned through a lot of cash in pursuit of fun…...

Cowboys

I write this blog for me.  To make sense of the world and my fear and inadequacy.  Last week, a man gunned down 26 people in Connecticut, and it doesn’t make sense.  I don’t have words that can make my little world make sense, so I don’t even hope to make sense of something that big.  But even without hope, I write because it helps me.  At least with the small things. It seems that the “big” things come faster and faster these days.  Almost to the point where some guy with a high-powered rifle, acting out some video game sniper-fantasy on a college campus or a mall is normal. It’s not even shocking any more.  Not in the way it really ought to be. Originally this post was going to be about being a programmer.  It’s what I do for a living right now, and it’s how I see the world.  But like the victims over the last year, and even the murderers, I’m not just one thing.  Like you, I’m swimming in a sea of cultural habits and expectations.  Some of them I carry out without a thought, some with happiness and gladness.  Others I carry out grudgingly, and some not at all.  For instance, being a vegetarian in a meat crazy society feels like a revolutionary act sometimes.  It’s small, but it’s huge.  So I can’t write this post today about being a programmer.  I have to write it about being a human in a big world full of big things that prompt big emotions. Programming is a funny occupation, not because of what it is...

The True Believer

I read a New York Times article today that talked about irony, and it resonated with a number of things I find myself saying or thinking over recent years.  The thrust of the article is that the recent “hipster” fashion is, at its core, a self-defeating stance.  You can’t be made fun of if you are making fun of yourself.  You can’t lose the fight if you throw in the towel before the match. For those of you not in-the-know, hipster fashion can be summarized as weird.  But summarizing it so misses a point.  Wearing weird kitschy clothes, embracing vintage clothes because of their iconic not-cool-ness, doing strange things with hair cuts…  it’s not just fashion for some.  It’s lifestyle. One of the points the article brought up that really got me thinking was the bit about risk.  Gen X was about “not caring,” but the “ironic” lifestyle of the Hipster is about actively sabotaging success in the name of not caring.  That sabotage is really just a defense mechanism to prevent defeat. I talked to my neighbor the other day about her classes, and about risk-taking behavior.  She teaches at Wake Forest, and teaches an intro-level religion class.  She mentioned that she works hard to get her class talking, to get them to introduce ideas that may be wrong, but build a larger and more sturdy framework of knowledge.  After all, getting it wrong is an integral part of eventually getting it right.  Initially, she said, the whole class resisted the risk involved, but even now that most of the class trusts the process. there are those who...