Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Solo ’16

For Spring Break I enjoyed the chance to cruise 2,676 miles of the the great northwest. Highlights include a quick stop at the Shasta (CA) ghost town, flying my quadcopter over an ersatz Maryhill (OR) Stonehenge, shooting neon signs in Yakima (WA), searching for the Wallace (ID) “Center of the Universe” sewer access cover, photographing the Anaconda (MT) Club Moderne (a classic of streamlined architecture), visiting the Rigby (ID) Birthplace of Television museum, driving down rutted roads to survey the Ely (NV) Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park, and staying a night at the infamous Tonopah (NV) Clown Motel and Miner's cemetery - all while grooving on old Dragnet radio shows, complete with Jack Webb taking a Fatima "smoke break" at least once per episode.

Holiday Motel, Bend (OR)
Club Moderne, Anaconda (MT)
Clown Motel, Tonopah (NV)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Thoughts on the potential CSU Strike

A student recently asked me to answer some questions about a CSU potential strike that may affect all 23 campuses of the California State University system this April. With that student's permission, I'm reposting the exchange here. For facts and analysis, I encourage you to check out the California Faculty Association FAQ. For one faculty member's take on the situation (expanding on a number of posts I've written about the academic market), read on...

What is your opinion on the strike? A strike is a regrettable but sometimes necessary response to unfair working conditions. In this case, CSU administrators have failed to pass along a reasonable portion of increased revenues to repair the damage to faculty pay caused by years of recession. The union has negotiated with the CSU in good faith, and we have certainly tried to avoid a strike. But if this sort of job action is necessary then I stand with my union.

Do you think it's fair to the students? I agree those who state that, "faculty working conditions are student learning conditions." If administrators demean those working conditions by failing to pay workers a wage that allows us to keep up with inflation (in a place known for its extraordinary cost of living) then management is harming students. How, after all, can students succeed if faculty - folks they call to grade assignments, offer mentorship, write recommendation letters, and provide other forms of direct support - can't afford to pay their bills and care for their families? Indeed I would hope that students would feel encouraged to support their faculty, recognizing that we share the same goal: fair and productive working/learning conditions.

How did you feel when you first heard about the strike taking place? When I received the news I understood immediately. Faculty have suffered stagnant wages for years, a fact exacerbated by the growing cost of living in California. We all stepped up to help the CSU weather the economic difficulties wrought by years of shared economic hardship, even accepting a furlough in 2009 to help preserve jobs and help students graduate on time. That furlough meant real pay cuts in a time when many faculty members were struggling to pay their bills. We supported our schools then because we recognized the need to pull together in times of challenge. Now that the economy is growing, albeit more slowly than we'd prefer, the faculty merely ask for some help to keep up with inflation.

Are there any concerns you have because of this? Having joined the union almost immediately upon my employment at SJSU I have always known that a strike could be called. Indeed, I remember participating in an informational picket just a few months after my arrival. It was a strange thing, accepting a job and then soon entering a picket line. While it was nice to join my senior colleagues in singing old protest songs, I inwardly wondered if I was engaged in an activity that might endanger my job. I understood that CSU faculty who pursue authorized job actions are protected from retaliation, but that protection seemed a bit too theoretical to this young professor. Still, I joined my colleagues and was proud to play my part (small as it was). I feel no less determined today. No one wants to strike. But if we must, we will.

Do you think it's important for the faculty to go on strike? Why? A wide range of global, social, economic, and even philosophical trends have contributed to a de-professionalization of education. For many administrators (not all, but enough), faculty members are increasingly viewed as disposable employees - as "human resources" - who should feel lucky to have a job and must be willing to acquiesce in silence to their managers. But we are not widgets. We are professionals, subject matter experts, artists, counselors, coaches, and experts in our fields. We know our students; we serve on the front lines of the struggles to help them enter a tough marketplace and, more importantly, become well-rounded human beings. We became educators because we love to teach, and to learn. So, yes, we accepted a "calling" of sorts. Still, we pay the same sorts of bills as everyone else, and we know our value, even if some administrators don't. We appreciate it when chancellors and board members pay lip service to our central role in educating the next generation of students; we are grateful for their kind words. At the same time we deserve and demand a fair wage. So if there's a strike, I'll join my colleagues - and those students who wish to participate - and do my part.


Infographic by Deric Mendes

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

SLP Street Art

Highlights from a street art search in San Luis Potosí...

Monday, February 29, 2016

Mexican Journey

Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey
Campus San Luis Potosi
Last week Jenny and I traveled to Mexico (our first time!), having accepted an invitation to participate in the Global Faculty Program at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. The gig emerged from a dinner conversation with Claudia Ugalde in St. Petersburg, Russia of all places. We’d both completed three weeks of a study abroad program in Finland and were enjoying a meal with other friends and colleagues when Claudia recommended the Mexico program. Since I’d enjoyed working with her students so much, she figured I’d have a swell time on one of their home campuses. So after submitting an application I received to word: I’d be heading to San Luis Potosí.

Pozole in SLP Old Town
I had no idea of what to expect. Her colleagues and I discussed plenty of logistics: flights, lodging, that sort of thing. But my actual duties remained flexible until a few days before departure. That’s when I received word of their request that I’d teach ten lectures on a broad range of topics. They’d read my vita and found topics that fit with my skills and interests, and in fact I really only needed to prep a handful of presentations. They were happy for me to repeat lectures for several class sections.

Searching for Street Art
Still, there are few things that are both as exhilarating and terrifying for an educator as flying into another country, arriving late at night, waking up super early to prep, catching a ride to campus, being shown around various spaces, finding my assigned classroom, figuring out the tech, getting to know the professor hosting this lecture, sizing up the students as they walk in, and then hearing a silent voice in my head that goes, ".... and nowwwwww... teach!" 

Campus San Luis Potosí 
Thus I especially appreciated the pleasure (and relief) in knowing that the old tricks and half-forgotten techniques, the familiar dance and untrodden path, managed to connect. On my first day I presented two versions of "Gamification: Disrupting Business and Higher Education,” smiling to find that this topic is just as relevant in Mexico as it is in Belarus, in Finland, and in California. Pretty soon I got into a pleasant groove, presenting lectures on "Silicon Valley Startup Culture," "Intercultural Communication: Crossing Borders and Dismantling Walls" (with some snippy Trump references, of course), and "China: The Once and Future Superpower.”

Nighttime in Jardín Guerrero, Querétaro
Somewhat embarrassingly, I also prepped a lecture called "Mediated Communication: Rethinking Engagement in the Age of Ubiquity” but accidentally fired up the wrong Prezi one day and ran the “Intercultural Presentation” talk instead. Neither the professor nor the students seemed to mind, though, and we ended up having a rollicking visit. The conversations that ensued gave me much to contemplate about life in Mexico, and about local perceptions of U.S. culture. That evening Jenny and I joined other visiting faculty and a wonderful campus host for late-night dinner in a restaurant themed after Frida Kahlo. The food and chat were delightful.

El México de Frida
After finishing my tenth lecture and saying goodbye to our new friends in San Luis Potosí, we joined a Monterrey Tech tour of Teotihuacán, which included an opportunity to learn about indigenous astronomy, agriculture, and spirituality - and to climb the Pyramid of the Sun. I can still hear the whistling wind and see the clouds roll over the valley, and I can still smell the burning sage we used for a ceremony that gave us permission to ascend those sacred steps.

Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán
Afterward our group sampled some local tequilas (Jenny passed on that part, of course) and then cruised back to SLP. With all the driving back and forth, we ended up getting three hours of sleep before our return flights. But we’re wide awake in our love and affection for Mexico. My new pals there have encouraged me to return one day, and I hope I can. Indeed, I can't believe it's taken me this long to begin exploring this amazing place!

Atop the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacán
Check out my Facebook album for more pix.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Iowa 2016

Jeff Darcy
OK. Joke’s over.

Recently while having coffee with a colleague, the topic of Donald Trump came up. My pal had noticed a number of political posters in our hallways, some comparing Trump’s rhetoric with the vile history of Nazism. She was glad to see that many of our students are politically involved. I replied that I appreciated their sentiments, even as I bemoan their excesses. “Comparing Trump to Hitler,” I said, “just seems silly.”

I affirmed my belief that Trump is a circus sideshow of blustery soundbites and shameless hucksterism. Yet a vibrant democracy must allow for his voice, I said, grating as it is. Splashing a swastika Trump’s over goofy hairdo kills the potential for serious debate. What’s worse, the attack mutes the meaning of real Nazis and the real terror they spread. Sure, Trump projects a cult of personality. His reckless militarism is scary. And his “take back our country” pablum begs the question, “take it back, from whom?” Trump’s a fool. But he’s no fascist. An opportunist? A bully? A chickenhawk? Oh, yeah. But let’s not hyperventilate just yet.

My pal rebuked me. Hitler was mocked and ridiculed, too. And then he took power.

I thought about this for a few days… until Sarah Palin entered the fray to throw her support behind Trump. “OK, that’s it,” I said to myself. “The 2016 campaign has officially become a conceptual art exhibit.” And sure enough, there was Tina Fey once again delivering a ruthless satire on SNL, rendering Palin somehow more of a laughing stock than she was in ’08. Best of all, Fey merely had to repeat Palin’s bizarro-land stream-of-consciousness almost word for word. I began to relax. Of course Palin would stand beside Trump in the political cloud-cuckoo-land of 2016! These gags write themselves.

To this point I’ve believed that Iowa Republicans would eventually get the joke. But enough Hawkeye State Republicans caucused for Donald Trump to put the New York billionaire officially in the number two spot, sending The Donald off to New Hampshire where he holds a commanding lead. This is the guy who joked that Megyn Kelly’s tough questioning could be explained by “blood coming out of her wherever,” the guy who ridiculed John McCain by saying, “'I like people who weren't captured,” the guy claimed he could "could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody" and not lose any voters… This guy almost won the GOP Iowa primary.

I still think that Trump is a national embarrassment, and I continue to believe that the democratic process is resilient enough to endure his shameful rhetoric. And I remain adamant that efforts to denigrate political hacks as “Nazis” insults both history and our potential to disagree in a constructive manner. At the same time, I will no longer dismiss Donald Trump as a national joke. He nearly took Iowa, losing to the slightly less loathsome Ted Cruz; he’s running for President of the United States, and he can still win.

If we let him.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Holiday Newsletter

Here's our 2015 newsletter - and my wishes that you and yours enjoy a super swell 2016! Click the pic to download...

Difficulties opening via the image? Download the newsletter from here:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Vegas All Night

While attending the National Communication Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas, I learned that, yes, it is possible to do an all-nighter without gambling or clubbing. Nothing against those activities, of course, but Jenny and I wanted to explore some of Sin City’s other nocturnal delights. Here’s the itinerary:

6:30 p.m., Neon Boneyard: Joined by our pal Chip Hall, we wandered an outdoor museum dedicated to some of Vegas’s glittering, twinkling, glowing marquees that have drawn gamblers and gangsters to the desert for decades. The fee is a bit steep, and entrance requires a reservation, but the trip is essential for anyone who loves classic neon. Though many of the signs no longer function, strategically placed lights produce delightfully eerie shadows on these icons of the past.

8:30 p.m., Zombie Burlesque: Jenny and I had never seen a Vegas show, and I’m a bit amazed that Jenny OK’d this one as our first. The good news is that the “burlesque” was pretty much PG-13. A little skin, some naughty humor, but nothing too raunchy. Best of all, the theme was a goofy send-up of 50s and 60s atomic-age pop culture, a hidden history of America’s hidden zombies next door, and a genuinely sweet message about diversity that rings especially true in an Age of Trump. Oh, and free jello-shots.

10:30 p.m., El Cortez and Fremont Street: Jenny, Chip, and I grabbed a meal at Siegel's 1941, a comfy old school restaurant at El Cortez, one of Vegas’s original mob haunts. Their off-menu prime rib dinner is delectable [well, it's palatable], but this time I went for a wedge salad and some caffeine. Afterward we surveyed the enclosed zaniness of Fremont Street, where you can snap photos with a Tony Montana lookalike, rock out to competing 80s cover bands, and pay dearly to drink from a replica of the Christmas Story leg-lampshade.

1:30 a.m., Fremont Street and Vegas Boulevard: Jenny and I continued our adventures north of the Strip, driving around some of the city’s funkier environs in search of neon signage for a video I've long wanted to produce. At this point, we were both getting sleepy, but neither of us would discuss quitting. We both remember pooping out around this time in an ill-fated Santa Cruz all-nighter we attempted a few years back. Every time I proposed a retry, Jenny’d say, “Nope. This time we’ll wait for a place like Vegas or Paris.” Now that we were here, there was no way we’d give up.

2:30 a.m., Flamingo Wildlife Habitat: We returned to the Strip, racing south on an interstate that had been a traffic-jammed parking lot just a few hours ago. Inside the Flamingo, the “Vegas, Baby!” vibe had begun to sour for a few folks: Woo Girls crying in the bathroom, Bro Boys itching for a fight, couples arguing next to taxi cabs ("But you said you loved me!"), that sort of thing. Jenny and I made our way to the habitat, searching for flamingos and koi. I was a little annoyed that the lights had been switched off, but the sight of fish sleeping in their shadowy pools delighted us nonetheless.

3:30 a.m., Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: While hard core late-night gamblers (Sorry, I mean “gamers”) plugged away, hoping for their big break, Jenny and I visited one of the Bellagio’s lesser-known destinations. The hotel’s high-end shopping mall offerings were closed, but the gardens remained available - and free! At the Conservatory, we wandered quiet walkways amid gorgeous arrangements of autumn blooms, stared upward at an indoor waterwheel, snapped pictures and - Hey! Did that tree just wink at us? Yeah, the Bellagio’s got an animatronic tree - because, of course it does.

4:30 a.m., Caesars Palace and LINQ: Getting our Third Wind, we toured Caesars Palace, which famously doesn’t include an apostrophe because, “Everyone’s a Caesar here.” Well, OK, but you could put the apostrophe after the second ’s,’ right? Never mind. Anyway we gazed upward at replicas of Italian statues, including a version of Michelangelo’s “David.” At LINQ we found an all-night breakfast at Hash House A Go Go. Jenny ordered Froot Loops, and I got a BLT Bloody Mary - because who doesn’t enjoy cheap vodka, soggy bacon, wilted lettuce, and a side of toast?

5:30 a.m., Luxor and Excalibur: I’d always wanted to visit the inside of the Luxor pyramid, so we drove about a half-mile south to our last stops of the night. The Luxor is suitably mammoth, a vast atrium filled with shops and restaurants and leering advertisements of Criss Angel and Carrot Top. Jenny was hankering to check out Excalibur, so we boarded a moving walkway through the omnitopian continuum and found ourselves in a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy domain that also offers 24-hour Krispy Kreme donuts. I figured my Bloody Mary needed some company, and the price was right.

6:30 a.m., Exit: Riding the travelator back to the Luxor and our parking garage, we noticed that the sun rise had begun to color the clouds in delicate wisps of pink. We wandered past creepy video gaming devices - the ones featuring life-sized and blandly sexy dealers who appear to look around before beckoning you from across the floor (“There’s a seat over here!”) - and exited into the cool morning air. Driving north and then east, the sun now glowed fully fat orange and round, celebrating the new day.

Next All-Nighter? But of course: Paris!