CI 5150 Popular Culture and Education: Culture of Vampires

December 6, 2009 Blog Entry for CI 5150

Vampires in Culture Sources:

I just came home from a Lessons and Carols Choir and Orchestra Service a few hours ago at my daughter-in-law's church so it was hard to watch some of the UTube postings of clips of vampire movies as part of research into the role of "vampire culture" in contemporary American culture today.  I have not watched any of the current genre of vampire movies and only remember being 9 years old in 1958 and seeing Dracula starring Christopher Lee.  At this time, vampires were about monsters and horror and they were really scary.  Christopher Lee was basically a fiend who attacked others and sucked thier blood and converted them, as a result, into fellow vampire fiends that spread the curse and could fly around as bats and vapors on their nightly soirees to feed on the blood of humans. 

I remember the scenes of somewhat quasi grisly attacks, and monster like demeanor of the attacking vampires.  There were also scenes of driving stakes into vampires hearts as they lay in their coffins, usually immobilized by a crucifix laid on their chest.  Blood curdiling screams were emitted as the stake was driven into their hearts, or as curtains in rooms were flung open and they were caught in the light of day and turned into dust in a few moments of time, unable to return to their tombs and coffins in the dark.  A concensus on review of my sources listed above is that we have graduated from the monster and horror genre to a dark and sexy and slightly dangerously romantic version now.  It is now about sex and erotic seduction with a lightly "darkly dangerous" and beautiful vampire character who now gets his blood attacking deer and other wild game in the woods.  As a result the encounter and engagement with a human is now more of a seduction thrill with the draw being the shadowy realm of the vampire, their physical beauty, and the desire to have a physical relationship, but with the possibility of immortallity as the vampire's partner in eternity.  Most people have sexual needs and desires, want to be desired by a loved one and most fear death and want to not ever have to face it.  So voila!!, the new vampire genre meets the needs of modern humans, especially young people and those who want to be young.

Some critics think that it is just a current spin on patricarchical rules for society that give women a chance to be more free in desiring men, and being desired and seduced sensously, with their satisfaction being higher, but in the end they are still being controlled by men.  And then there is the Buffy vampiress who is the "lil Kim" of the vampire world, but still locked in struggle with men and not free of them.  It was suggested by a number of writers that this new genre of vampire movies and stories merely mirrors the current trends in society and ther current issues in relationships at the time, with a vampire role for each subgroup in our culture.

Temple English Professor Peter Logan suggested that vampires in 19th Century English culture grew out of the Industrial Revolution in full swing in Britain and that society ruling the world, with a quarter of all people in its Empire, but with it worrying about tensions and conflict with its African and Asian subjects.  Others suggest a push back on the strict moral code of Victorian society and that the course of evolution of the vampire from monster and horrorible seducer to one of more friendly, casual and sensual genre marks the passing of the morals of Victorian England, the British Empire and in America today, a transition away from traditional moral codes.

My own reflection is that everyone wants romance and love and to be desired.  Most everyone would like to be immortal and live forever in the realm of this world as we know it, not grow old, and have a partner that would experience this with us.  I think the fascination with vampires reflects these basic and universal human desires.  It is the media, writers of books, televison series and movies for the screen that then serve this up for the public to have the chance to engage in this particular type of erotic and escapist fantasy, that helps them be transported away from the boredom and frustrations of our busy and stressful modern way of life.  I think that it is a new form of idols on the screen and in print that people use as a fix.

My own path does not take me down this particular road.  I cope with frustrations, tribulations and aging by going to deeper levels in my faith as a Christian.  I read scripture often, write about my daily walk and concerns, pray and meditate.  This gives me the strength to handle the challenges of life.  I try not to culivate a desire for physical fantasy and satisfaction outside my marriage, I focus my energy on being faithful and making my love not one based on raw emotional desires, but one directed by loyal commitment and with my desires for love and affection guided by that, with emotions as a force tempered by my commitment to my faith and love directed appropriately within my marriage commitment.  As part of getting older, some men get seduced by what I would call "vampire lust" and either ruin or badly damage their marriages by taking up with younger women in adultery, as recently we see in the case of golf star Tiger Woods or Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones.  The thrill of the chase and initial physical pleasure collapses into ruined relationships with spouses and short-term reaches for new of younger women that don't work out.

My faith gives me the path to eternal life through Christ, however much of this is not fully known by Christians here in this world.  I have humanly discomfort over aspects of aging and the limits of physical life here.  I do not blame people who are caught up in the current vampire cultural fad.  They are drawn by the same things working in all of us, but in the end, it may not be very satisfying for long, while as a person faith, yielding in my walk to the teachings of Christianity has helped me be less anxious with age and see love as a realm that C.S. Lewis writes of in his book "The Four Loves" as having many dimensions, eros, storge, philios, and agape, or the sensual, brotherly, philantrophic and Christ-like or spiritual.  If one can be drawn to the more compassionate version of vampires, I see that it could be a path into a deeper realm of a faith in God, and desire for the love of Christ, based on my own walk and realms an those of friends of mine who have searched long years and found His peace.

To me its promising that we have left the vampire monsters behind and moved on to figures that are loving and compassionate, it is hopeful for our path in this 21st Century.  Best to all on your walk and every good thing to you.  As Paul wrote: whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are of good report, just, lovely and noble, meditate on these.




November 22, 2009

In reflecting on the clothes I wore 10 to 15 years ago, I am thinking of my life in 1994.  I had just finished a consulting job that involved legislative lobbying, so I had worn a suit part of the time for that work, a conservative gray suit.  I also had a part-time job at a financial research firm for which I wore casual clothes, like dockers, a plain color and collared shirt and usually a sweater.  A friend had gotten me the latter job part time as I had just been divorced and I was on hard times regarding income.  I did not like it and left after two months.

By June of that year, my consulting work had ended.  I was unemployed and seeking work as an environmental consultant or as an instructor in teaching college courses in environmental science which I had done a couple of times during the period 1991 through 1993.   I liked teaching and wanted to do that the most, so dressed for interviewing with colleges.  I usually wore khaki Dockers, a blue blazer, a blue button down shirt and modest tie to interview for teaching positions.  I had read about blue being a very favorable color for first interviews in a book titled "What Color is Your Parachute," by Willam Boyles, I think I have the author right, and I liked blue anyway.  I also wore the same outfit interviewing for agency and consulting firm jobs.

That summer I had several let downs in consulting firm job applications but had sent a number of resumes out to colleges.  I was at a low point for the late summer and spent days going to parks and coffee shops to read and write in a journal.  The days were lonely as most people I knew were working.  I dressed simply in khakis, a collared shirt and an old sports coat, trying to keep my identity as an intellectual, continuing teacher aspirant, and a reader and writer.  I would go to a park with a lawn chair, book and journal bag, and my dog and sit for hours at a time reading and writing.  I was broke and living on a credit card, but keep a routine and appearance like a working person. 

One job fell through that had looked really promising and I sank in spirit in late July.  My hair started to thin out, I began to face looking older and less attractive.  The clothes then  became even more of a prop.  A high point came a month later.  I visited my sister in Colorado, landed a teaching job here in the Twin Cities, for fall of 1994, one class in environmental studies, and began to grab onto my work as my chance to build a new life at that time.  While visiting my sister, I went to Rocky Mountain National Park and took lots of pictures for my classroom presentations, bought new books in my field at the University of Colorado bookstore, and came back lifted up in spirits.  My sister bought me some new clothes.   I and was able to gain ground wih my teaching that fall even though there were some bumps with students over environmental issues and some wrestles I was having about best teaching practices.  But, everything built steadily, I enjoyed good relations with the school and they gave me more classes.  Other schools contacted me and I got full-time teaching a year later as an adjunct instructor at four different schools.  I developed a uniform of khaki dockers and three sports coats which I wore out but kept wearing.  I took them to a tailor for mending and made do with them as long as I could.  Each year my sister gave me and still does give me clothes, usually a sports jacket and shirts at Christmas time.  I was and still am the poorest person in my family and the least economically successful and use clothes in part to counter that.  I may be poor but will look good and boost my feelings and esteem by not looking like I am poor.

I have been remarried since 2003, after dating my wife for 6 years before that.  She is a very thrifty shopper and buys my clothes at rock bottom prices and has even called me on the phone to alert me to sales.  I had a beloved green wool sports jacket my sister had given me, which my wife eventually told me I had to stop wearing for work, as she said it was just getting too worn out.  However, she then found a great Land's End sports coat similar to it, made in China, that was on sale for $20.  I bought two of them after we talked by phone and I had pulled into Har mar Mall to check out a Land's End there.  I don't know who said it but I remember hearing a phrase that "clothes don't make a man, but they don't hurt either."

My other get up, in my wife's words is the "outback" look, with cargo pants, polar fleece, field vest, 6 gadgets on my belt (cell phone, digital camera, digital voice recorder, Swiss Army Knife, Wave Leatherman all-purpose tool in one), with a Fedora wide brim hat that i have had since fall 1995 when I started teaching full-time.  I wear all the belt gadgets and the Fedora whether I am teaching in the classroom or in then field.  Add to this memory sticks on a neck lanyard and pocket journals and I am in my instructor mode.  Maybe these are all external props that are a buttress against a later life identity crisis or at least on-going growth and development. I am probably like most people, a perpetual work in progress, on the long journey of life, and have my foibles, but life is still rewarding and it is taking the journey that is the most important part, so if clothes can help us, if they are fun, and it is not excessive, why not.

My wife also has educated me on thrift stores and there are a number of them on the East Side of St. Paul.  We go there to buy toys for our grandchildren and some of our clothes.  I have found some great sports coats for prices ranging from $7.50 to $19.95, some of them beautiful wool tweads made from imported Scottish wool.  I imagine sometimes the person who must have had the coat that I buy at the thrift stores.  Was it a fellow who passed on, or a kid who outgrew the coat, or didn't like the style any more?  Then I think of how I will want my clothes disposed of when I am gone.  I am thinking that it would only be fair if I gave them back to an thrift store or a church rummage sale when thatb time comes.  Hopefully, that will be a ways off into the future and I will enjoy them for now.

My students are all casual.  I am there with them.  If I were full-time as a student, I would, and have dressed in comfortable clothes, leaning towards the "outback" and geoscience look.  I think clothes are a lot of fun, and even if one does not have much money and can only afford a few things, it is a okay way to express oneself and their individuality.  Every once and a while one of my students will dress very nicely for class, wear a cool hat, have an outrageous shirt, or newly dyed hair color.  Its good to see them do this and I think that dressing nicely and having a style makes it fun for others.  I really like to have my wife dress nicely and she is a phenomenal bargin hunter and can do this without going broke.

I have seen pictures of Africa and the people there who live in small rural villages, where they work hard and do much physical work, yet the women dress beautifully and in bright colored clothes.  At the church my wife and I currently attend, there are many Africans from places like Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya.  They dress in beautiful tradition African robes and clothes for our sunday services.  I can't help but think that it is a universal human desire to dress as well as one can and to present oneself as a visual gift in part to others, and at church for God.  Yes, life is much more than the visual, but often the inner and outer person are a true interplay, one's appearance, and the personhood they have. Beauty can be both within and without in the same person and everyone has clothes and style that are their favorites, that they find joy in wearing as part of expressing themselves and being with others.

Thank you for letting me share this with you.  I look forward to reading you entry and thank you for taking a moment to read mine.  Best to you and a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.  And have some fun wearing your holiday clothes!





November 15, 2009

I was born in 1949 so part of looking at the toys I played with is thinking a long way back in time.  However, I am now a step-grandparent with grandsons aged 9 months, 11 months, 2.7 years and a granddaughter 3.5 years old.   I have the kind of magical moment of remembering my own childhood as my wife and I take care of our grandchildren together.  I remember toys I played with including things like a British made series called "Dinky Toys" which were really detailed cars and trucks made in exact detailed replicas of real cars and trucks.  I was fascinated by cars and trucks.  I see this same connection as my wife and I buy cars and trucks for my grandsons and granddaughter, as well as other toys.  We get some cool ones at Cub Grocery store: PT Cruisers, pick up trucks, tractors, race cars and Hummers and so on that our grandsons play with.  We also go to thrift stores where we live on the east side of St. Paul and have bought some Tonka trucks and tractors that the boys play outside with during summer.  We get a bag of sand and let them load the dump trucks up, haul the sand and then dump a load, and haul some more.  It helps me remember the wooden sand box my parents had for me, my sister and younger brother when we were growing up.  Since their grandfather is a semi-retired farmer, we feel that it is in part learning about machines that are part of their family's world.  My oldest step-grandson does ride on a real tractor with his grandfather and his Dad helping get the fall harvest in.  This is an important part of my oldest grandson's world and indentity.  My wife and I bought him a small John Deere tractor and trailer at Fleet Farm that runs on a 12 volt battery and he drives it and helps me pick up sticks and brush in our back yard and haul it out to our brush pile and composter.  He takes this very seriously and is a hard worker.  My granddaughter also enjoys driving this tractor.

When we are not doing lawn work, my wife gets my oldest grandson set up hauling sand, which we pretend is corn, to a large cardboard box out in the back yard which we have called a barn.  My wife has a wooden doll her grandfather made her as a child which we put inside and tell my grandson that it is a cow and that we have to haul "corn" from the sandbox to feed the cow in the barn.  He gets going with that for a while and then it is usually time to take him down the block to the elementary school play ground where he climbs the jungle jim, slides and we push him on the swing.

When I think more about my childhood and my toys I had I fondly remember my electric trains.  First, I had a hand me down Lionell train set from an older cousin who was ten years older than me.  I enoyed it a lot, and then 3 to 4 years later while spending part of a summer with my grandmother and step grandfather out on the east coast, they bought me a small HO gauge electric train which I really loved.  It was a simple engine with three passenger cras and an oval track.  Over the next 4 years or so, my grandparents and parents got me more track for this, more train cars and more locomotives.  I loved these trains.  Now that my grandchildren are getting older, I have begun to think about the next stage of toys.  My own fascination with electric trains has recently got me into Hubbs Hobby Stores, where I was a kid all over again.  The store had everything under the sun in the way of plastic models of ships, planes, cars, trucks, tanks, and I had a trip down memory lane. 

I also found electric train sets, flying model airplanes, model ships, sailboats, and was mesmerized by it all.  I had to pull back a bit and refrained from buying anything at the time.  But I have been thinking about it ever since.  I kind of thought I would buy a starter train set in the next year or so.  Right now, my wife and I have bought some affordable Thomas the Train sets at Target and a lot of track so we can cover our living room floor area that is open, about 6 by 6 feet.  Our two grandsons that we baby sit the most often are just a bit young to manage this responsibly alone without getting too rough with the trains.  They are getting there gradually.  We watch the Thomas the Train DVDs with them and they are engrossed in the stories.  The engines and train cars in the sets we have got for them at this time are a little smaller than HO gauge.  So much comes back to me in playing with them and it is an amazing experience for me as I play with and take care of them as a step grandparent.  I never had children so it is an especially rewarding experience for me at this point in my life, one of my most joyful, especially as it is also a wonderful team effort with my wife.

So, I got thinking, what is it about toy trains that makes them so appealing?  Part of it has to be the fun that Dads have getting to play with their childhood toys again and re-live part of their youth.  For kids, it is a miniature world that I think is so appealing because they are in control of it, taking care of this little miniature world.  Trains may be a phallic symbol as well, maybe that is a part of it, though I had not ever thought about it prior to this assignment.  I lived as a child playing with electric trains in a small midwest town an hour south of Chicago.  We could take the train from a couple of nearby towns, within 20 minutes driving time to Chicago and we did this, as well as drive by car, to visit my grandfather and my stepgrandmother and my great grandmother in Chicago.  Several trains a day went through my home town.  At night I could hear their low sounding horn and their rumbling along. The sounds were familiar and comforting.  Today, living on the near East Side of St. Paul, I hear a couple of rail lines and the river front switch yard engines and trains at night.  I have deep sense of comfort in hearing their sounds, it must go all the way back to times before I could talk as a child.  I think trains, cars, trucks and other toys also represent travel and adventure for children, that it is a prelude to having the ability to one day travel to any place they would like, as they see their parents do with them as they grow up.

Can we have trains and cars of the future that don't emit greenhouse gases?  Will our children have the mobility that we have?  I hope to be able to play with my grandchildren at a future date with the solar hydrogen car that I bought on sale at Penny's two years ago.  It runs on sunlight and water. 

I hear the rumble of a distant diesel electric engine now, as our house is quiet and the hour is late.  Soft comforting sounds, like each person, maybe, working hard to pull our weight and move along the paths of life that are openning before us.  I look forward to the journey, and maybe some day a ride on the wonderful trains out west that run from Denver to Seattle winding through the Rockies and across the west.  

Best to you and I look forward to reading your blog also,



CI 5150 Posting for Food in Culture for November 1, 2009


November 2, 2009

This post is late.  I was making it about 2 hours ago, but when I had completed the first entry and went to save it, I was directed to the log in as I had been timed out.  I lost my entry completely and had no back up for it.  At that point I was chagrined, but do not regret the loss as I had stopped to have lunch at a sit down meal with my wife, stepson and 11 month old grandson for the first meal together at home in quite some time.  Well worth it to have to redo the blog entry.  It was a full meal, baked ham, red potatoes, green beans, brocoli, and home made applesauce from fresh picked apples that my wife had made last week.

We enjoyed fellowship as well and lingered over the meal before my grandson wanted to get down and play and my stepson went back outside to finish up work on a brick patio he is building for us.  My wife and I have a small house and the purpose of the patio, which connects with another one built two years ago in our back yard is to be able to entertain more of my wife's family and our grandchildren for cookouts during nice weather.  Our house is very small and it is hard to set up for all of our family and have any space to serve a meal, let alone have everyone sit down.

Eating together is a sacred event and many of us have to fight to keep this tradition viable.  My wife and I both work at night, afternoon to evening, and breakfast and lunch are our two meals we can have together before I am off for night classes at my college and she is off to the hospital where she is a nurse. 

While we may have a quick meal at McDonald's on a road trip to see our parents, in Illinois or in Oklahoma or Indiana, we delight in a candle light dinner at home.  A few years back we had one night out a month for a restuarant meal and a concert at the Ordway or MN Orchestra, but with money tight and 4 grandchildren, we are having many more dine in events for family, either with my step children, our grandchildren, or both, and it is really satisfying and sustaining. My wife and I share in the food preparation and serving, and that time as well is very nice, as  we share and catch up with each other.   For both of us it reminds us of growing up in the 1950s where the whole family sat down for dinner in the dining room and ate together every evening with few exceptions.  My wife and I light a scented candle even in the daytime and if it is night time, we have an assortment of candles that we light and them turn the electric lights off.   If we aren't working we may also have a glass of wine. 

As a child, my mother prepared dinner and asked me to light the candles in the dining room just before we sat down to eat.  Some of my fondest memories are of having dinner with my family and enjoying both eating and sharing about our day and what we had experienced.  We ate at 6:00 p.m. after the evening news and after dinner it was upstairs to do my homework until bed time or from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.  My mom did not work so this was more fully possible to have meals together than for most of us today.  My wife and I always go out for lunch at Panera after church and on a special occassion or a payday will go to a restuarant for a meal, favorites include Vietnamese, Thai, or contemporary American, a favorite being Sunsets Restuarant out in Woodbury.   We are modest in our picks from the menu on price but enjoy both the time together and the enjoyment of eating the food and savoring it.

I think of this as community, fellowship, sustaining our identity as a couple and family.  I think our fast paced society and crazy work schedules can cut into time people have to get together for a meal with each other.  I also have friends that I get together with for coffee, a glass of wine, or a meal or combinations thereof that are very imporatnt fellowship times together.  One friend of mine is very well read, he was a double major in history and literature and we can meet over food and drink and talk for an easy 3 to 4 hours, part of which in good weather can start having some food and coffee at an establishment and then adjourns to a long walk around Highland Park in St. Paul, with coffees to go in hand and sometimes another at the half way point around St. Cate's at a Caribou at Randolph and Fairview.  In lesser weather we parouse books, music, DVDs, and magazines at Barnes and Nobles or Half Price books.  We make it kind of like a moveable feast of snacks and coffee, filled with discussions on topics related to an Earth Stewardhsip class we teach at a church where I met him 15 years ago.   I join him for these events and discourse on weekend afternoons when my wife is working.    Again, food and fellowship, these are made to go together, and both are made deeper by each other.

There are important issues facing us in our modern world of an abundance of food of all kinds.  Globally, I think mass produced food from industrialized agriculture is both good and bad.  We are paying a big price environmentally and in terms of food additives and health risks related to how this food is processed before consumption.  Growth hormones, genetically modified foods, and use of antibiotics in meat production as a few examples of food processing and alteration, which may have yet to be realized long term impacts on human health.  As far as the environment is concerned, we are having a great loss of native ecosystems, forests and grasslands as agriculuture expands and this is resulting in a major exticntion crisis, climate change and degradation of water resources.  While our food may be afordable nominally at the grocery store, the cost ecologically is high and accumulating over time.  We are pulling on the world's fresh water through irrigation and using soil resources at a rate that is too fast for regeneration and sustainability.  There is a risk of eventual collapse of output if this is left unaddressed, especially if we add in possible future impacts of climate change.  We all need to eat lower on the food pyramid and less fat, meat, sugar.  Debates rage on these isses, and there is uncertainty, but each year we add about 78 million people to the planet and erode about 24 billion tons of topsoil, which slowly robs cropland fertility.  Nitrogen pollution from fertilizers has reached epic proportions, with serious consequences to water resources, ground water, lakes, rivers and coastal areas.  Some of these issues are being addressed through sustainable agriculture, reduced tillage techniques and organic farming, but this raises the cost of food which then makes buying green at coops and grocery stores something only the well to do can contemplate.  Yet a good friend buys all her family's food at an organic coop and she is a stay at home mom and her husband is a music minister at a church in St. Paul.  Moreover, she has two children at home.  However, she buys all bulk food and prepares all meals from scratch, no processed items, no convenience foods, no mass produced factory farm foods.  She is a remarkable person, yet many today would be unable to take the time that she does in food preparation.  Some how we will have to address food production at the current mass production, industrialized state and transform it to a sustainable mode.  That will be a huge effort.  While the Green Revolution doubled food output several times over, so then did it follow that the human population did the same.  It was a noble effort, but now we have to top it and somehow keep up with population growth but not destroy the ecosphere.  We will be able to do this if we eat less meat and lower on the food chain, since 3 to 10 pounds of grain are needed and many gallons of water to produce one pound of meat.  

There are many issues facing us on food.  The trend towards a more sedentary life style for us all and more food, but in some cases poorer food item choices, is producing a growing number of young people who will have early onset of heart disease and diabetes.  PBS Frontline did a major special program of this issue in this decade.  Many children now  recreate playing computer or internet games and spend less time outdoors getting physical exercise.  Then there are the media stereotypes in western culture for the tall thin woman of 5'9" weighing 110 pounds that has become the culturally reinforced standard globally whihc results in many women being rejected by others or themselves or depressed that that do not meet the globally reinforced media ideal.  Hence, record numbers of eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia here in the US, the west and now in other countries.  The message is that if you are not like this ideal you are not going to earn as much, be as successful, paid as much or have as much opportunity.  This feeds the diet and drug industry as well as the medical system for treatments of eating disorders.

It is a form of subjugation to have to submit to industrialized mass produced food, media bombardments of acceptable weight and height, and there is push back.  We each need to look at ourselves and say I deserve time to eat with a community of people, that we deserve safe food and a safe, clean environment, and to value others for the deeper value they have that is beyond their physical appearance.  In the end all physical beauty is fleeting, you are only young for so long.  As we age we learn that there are far more rewarding aspects to relationships than physical appearance.  This is hard for a culture like ours that is so saturated by visual media and the current stereotypes.  But we all need to eat and this brings us all together around these issues.  We need to take it back and challenge the mass produced food industrial complex, and while this will be hard, each step leads the way to the next and soon momentum is gained.  There is a sustainable agriculture community and movement.  It needs more voice, media access and incentives to break further into the food industry.  The birthing process of it going mainstream could be painful, but what could be gained in the long run will bring us miles ahead in succeeding as humans on Planet Earth.

I am thinking of doing a field trip with my Earth Science class to an organic food coop, and haivng the staff there give a guided tour and presentation.  I did this a number of years ago to the Seward Coop, but have not in recent years, since I am not teaching environmental science at this time.  I will leave it here for now and look forward to seeing my classmates blogs.  Best to you,



CI 5150 Post for October 25 on Article by Thomas A. Paine, Jr.

November 2, 2009

This is a late post for October 25 and is based on the article sent to the class by Thom Swiss.   I complelely agree that popular culture is an important way to connect with students in their education.  It is interesting for me to reflect back to my own K-12 education and on how influential popular culture was a part of my own experience.  For the first three years of my secondary education I attended an east coast boarding school for boys in New Jersey.  I have always loved music, and had, from an early age, loved sound tracks from movies, broadway musicals, popular teen beat and rock music and some symphonic music.  As an adolescent through elementary and middle school, I heard and listened to many of my older sister's records, and had a collection of my own of 45 and 33 rpm vinyl disk records.  We are two years apart in age, and I remember these times well in reflecting back.  We listened to a Chicago AM radio station with call letters WLS and followed the top 40.  As middle school was ending, The Beach Boys were just making it big nationally.  I remember well the soaring four part harmonies that they did over driving rock music. The music at this time was very focused on vocals, from the Drifters, Del Shannon, to Tommy Roe, and since I Iiked to sing, it was a quick connection for me.

By the time I was off to boading school in 1962, the Beatles were just getting play on US radio and appearing on the Ed Sullivan show.  My freshman house master let us have use of his apartment living room on saturdays to listen to our surfing records, the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, and also hear some of his records, in particular I remember some of his Ray Charles records.

By sophmore and junior years I was in an upper classman house system at the boarding school that allowed us more living room and time on our own.  In the freshman dorms we only had a sleeping cubicle and did homework any time we were out of class in a dorm study hall.  As sophmores and juniors, we studied in our rooms during the day outside of class time and at night instead of a study hall.  Our assistant house master in this middle grades house let us come down to his apartment in the evenings to watch some TV shows such as Mission Impossible, Wild Wild West, and some of the music variety shows that featured popular rock groups both from the US and the British invasion of 1964 to 1965.  He enjoyed these as much as we did reflecting back on it now.  Our school had a music center and I hung out there listening to kids who had instruments jam and play current music.  Bit by bit I learned to play the easy 4/4 beat while listening to Beatles tunes with head phones on a drum set that was available in the music center.  I later got a guitar and learned chords and some melodies and rifts bit by bit.  Soon, our house had a band, and the next year I played drums for it.  By that time, my struggles with academics mounted and I had discipline problems as well.  This helps me see the experience of kids today in similar contexts.  The pop music I loved was not a part of any teaching content at the prep school.  Beyond playing guitar for a school production of Bye Bye Birdie, singing in Glee Club and playing in a rock band for Glee Club dances and concerts at boarding schools for girls on the Glee Club circuit, I was losing my direction.  By 1967 I was back in my home town of 4,000 in central Illinois as a high school senior.  I quickly connected with friends I knew to form a rock band and if I had not had this outlet and connection, I don't know if I would have made it through high school.  

As a kid, there are lots of passages one goes through.  Being home my senior year with my parents and my brother in retrospect was a very good thing for me.  I think that is what I missed at the boarding school, and though I was somewhat in a different culture compared to the east coast, it helped me draw strength in my growing up at this time.  Playing with the friends I had in the rock band was sustaining.  Their parents and my parents helped us.  My parents gave me a set of new drums, I think that they how sustaining the music was for me.  I had an English teacher who was really good and we talked about pop culture as part of his classes.  He played guitar and advised us on our band line up of personnel and music repetoire. 

The summer after graduation was a huge one musically, St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, most of the Rolling Stones were in jail for drug charges and facing possible prison sentences, the landmark albums by the Byrds with electrified Dylan and folk music and the Jefferson Airplane were released; the counter culture was in full blown in 1967.

Given this experience, which went on in college and for some years after, I only survived because I found refuge and strength in music and fellowship with others who also were pursuing it as a possible career. I can see that inner city kids have a need to have their world as a pathway to understanding the larger world they are growing up in and as they encounter the educational establishment.  I definitely see how music could play a powerful role in humanities and science education.  The earth roars with wind and oceans, thunders and cracks across the sky with lightening bolts, and sings quietly in gentle springs and lake breezes and waves.  The natural world has been one of the great inspirations for painters, photographers, musicians and writers.  One of my efforts in a K-12 grant project that I teaching for professional development for educators has been focused on getting teachers and students outside more to encounter the natural world first hand and discover by experience and observation.  I vision students making films of the Earth for science education that cut across disciplines and use the arts in creative and imaginative ways that connect with their peers.  I am working with one creative arts high school looking at these possibilities.   I have been inspired by the work of Craig Blacklock, photographer, and musicians Rayn Rapsys and Peter Mayer who have worked with him to develop the DVD Minnesota's North Shore.  My dream is a production like this for the urban environmental  areas, drawing students to the naural work beyond the human constructed one for a new realm of consciousness that carries elements of meditation and relief from our frenzied world.  Many children seek refuge along the river and parks to be within their own world in the process of gowing up.  I believe we are "wired" for this and that when we don't get this type of connection, we are unwell and seek to find it in consumerism of many kinds, which in the end can become addictions that do not and cannot provide meaningful satisfaction, beyond fleeting moments. 

I concur with Fain that popular culture is a key in getting students interested in education.  This past year over Christmas and New Years for 2008-2009, my wife and I watched all of the extended version of Tolkein's "Lord of the Ring."   The message of this connects to a need to be humble with our planet.  The Hobbits are gentle and use the Earth in a harmonious way, in a pastoral life.  In contrast, Saron tears down the forests to make fuel for steel weapons forging for a massive army to conquer the worlds of the humble.  I am sure Tolkein saw industrialism as a threat, that this work also is art that could be used to teach an Earth and environmental ethic and conciousness.  I could say more here, but must draw to a close now for this entry.  Thank you for reading my entry and I wish you a connection with the Earth.  Today I am in a sunlight filled room with the beauty of a Native American Indian Summer Day of early November day.  I long to go outside now and take a walk in the cool crisp air. 

In closing, yesterday, I talked with a neighbor kid, 12 years old raking his mom's lawn of leaves with his 8 year old borther.  We talked a bit, I am helping him with some curriculum for chemistry that he told me he wants to pursue after a special district presentation for St. Paul District kids that was held at the Chemistry Department this summer at the UMN.  The boys talked as they worked.  At the end of the raking they laid back in the leaves and looked up at the sky.  A simple wonder each year in the change of the seasons, sounds, colors and tactile wonders from the Earth, the Creation, the mystery of life and its envelope around us all, wrapped in the galaxy and the Cosmos of unknowable extent and energy, visible and invisible.   All good things and joy to you,



Conversational Pedagogical Agents

This entry is based on our readings for the week "Conversational Agents and their Longitudinal Affordances on Communication and Interaction," by Aaron Doering, George Veletsianos, and Theano Yerasimou, in the Journal of Interactive Learning Research (2008) 19(2), 251-270 and "When Sex, Drugs, and Violence Enter the Classroom: Conversations Bewteen Adolescents and a Female Pedagogical Agent," by George Veletsianos, Cassandra Scharber,and Aaron Doering, in Interacting with Computers 20 (2008) 292-301.

I found the first article to be most interesting and readable because it seemed as if the questions students asked of the conversational pedagogical agent (CPA), that were social and off task, were less harmful and of concern to me in terms of the state of society today, than those in the second reading.  I could see that some of the scenarios of groups of students asking questions of the CPA and having a laugh about it.  The article was very helpful to me in thinking about developing an on-line version of one of my Earth Sciences classes and how I could use a CPA to help with navigating a website and also doing tutorials on very basic content for each chapter or unit.  My vision was a CPA tutor who could quiz the student on basic content and concepts in each chapter or unit and serve them questions of increasing difficulty or continuing with questions on the same concept until the student had a satisfactory understanding of, before moving onto the next concept. 

My idea is not original.  I have taken web-based safety training courses for hazardous materials, used voice-activated CPA systems for making reservations for travel, used web-based driving safety classes for university driving privileges and have used web-based tutorials for textbook support in Earth Sciences that are somewhat like a tutor and test student knowledge, and repeat and/or advance the learner through the content at an individual pace based on how well they are able to master or "get the concepts."   None of these examples I have used employ an animated CPA.  So in reading about the CPA in the first article cited above got me thinking of how to keep a 24/7/365 web-based class up and running and able to give students help at all hours of the day. This capability would allow the instructor teaching the class to be present during several times during the working day, and then both in the late and very early hours of the morning, the CPA could do some basic tutoring and friendly assistance for the student in their learning. In addition to using CPAs, I could also see having short videos that I could do as an instructor to supplement things like chat sessions, team-based cooperative learning projects and self-directed field trips where students could design and take a field trip to a local area of geologic interest, perhaps a state or national park in my Earth Sciences classes.

The second article did not surprise me, I have been around long enough to see a range of human behavior, but do believe that unsupervised sessions with a CPA that are not monitored in any way, especially with younger students in high school, could degenerate into sex, drugs and violence issues.  It saddened me somewhat to look at the language used as it seems to me to reveal unsavory and less respectful behavior that may be emerging in our over-populated and over media-saturated human conciousness of news, movies, TV and internet entertainment and the actual global reality of the spread of violence and conflicts around the world.  It worries me that we are losing respect for others in our society and have less compassion, patience and empathy as time accelerates, resources become more scarce, and that of economic and social stress, anger and frustration seem to be rising.  I am worried that the world may be working towards a collapse, as written about by popular geographer Jared Diamond in his book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail."   Diamond's idea is not new, Thomas Malthus wrote about the same concerns 300 years ago.

On the other hand, there is hope, and this is the best game in town, and I can see on-line web communities working to build cooperative initiatives to help others and draw young people to proactive efforts to resolve environmental and ecological challenges.  CPAs could be part of teaching initiatives, to push back on despair and hopelessness in a variety of venues.  I do know that many students have struggles with identity in school and for all of us our identity is evolving over our lives.  Websites for teaching that have friendly and knowledgeable CPAs could in my opinion help students feel less alienated and supplement some of the work done in chats, cooperatuve team work on projects, and communications with peers and the instructor.

My conclusion is that a very large potential exists to use CPAs as tutors, mentors, and learning coaches as a component in a well-designed on-line class, and I look forward to learning more about platforms that have been developed for using in Earth Science and environmental education, locally, regionally, and internationally.

I will post again shortly with my avatar video and will extend my entry at that post.

Best to everyone, and see you here again soon,


CI 5150 Popular Culture and Education: Addendum 10-04-09

In the hurry to finish my entry of just a moment ago, I forgot to add that it seems like heroine computer game figures are only just emerging and some seem to be created by male designers with great physical attributes, but little character depth and in some ways insulting to young women.   Here I am somewhat handicapped in analysis with practically no experience in playing games either on-line or on computer or other player.  I asked my IT department if the college had any computer or other games I could borrow to view to learn more about roles, animations used, settings and so on for this week but they did not.  I have no young children, my step children are all in their 20s and 30s and my grand-children by marriage are all under 4 years of age.

This weekend I played with three visiting grandsons and we hauled wood and brush in a miniature John Deere tractor and trailor, played with Play Dough, watched "Veggie Tales: Little Jimmie and the River Rescue," and helped two of them under one year of age try to stand and to walk a bit, more of the game the "walk of life."   I will be investigating games on line and have just been told about Second Life and may give that a try.  More on this soon. 

I will investigate girls and women in games as a check on issues of discrimination and prejudice and chauvanistic stereotyping.  I don't doubt that there are a range of identities offered for girls by game designers, some controlling and some creative.  Be patient with my baby-boomer re-education effort, I sincerely want to see what is out there.  I will ask my niece who is a freshman at a university for some history on it, as well as blog mates.

Best to all,


CI 5150 Popular Culture and Education

I was very interested in the articles we read this week.  I right away saw a connection to a research project I am working on with a colleague in science education for Earth Systems Science in both teacher preparation and students learning.  Most elementary teachers lack knowledge of Earth Science and especially ways of seeing very large global issues, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, food and water scarcity, resources consumption, population growth and how these all interact and interplay with each other.  I right away thought about how a "serious" computer game could like people in electronic networks globally to make connections and inroads into solving some of these issues, or at the very least gaining more traction in solving them, or at least accelerating our ability to gain traction.

I come back to where I left off last week about ecological footprints, individually and as nations.  If the dissidents in countries like Iran can use cell phones and twitter and host servers outside of the country to connect with the rest of the world, maybe we could use this same capability to connect children from all over the workd to play in ecological sustainability games. 

It has been one year since I have used our college's web platform, used by MNSCU, called D2L in a bigger and bigger way.  I am working up to an on-line class bit by bit and fortunately for me have a lot of help from IT especially since one of my former students from 10 years ago is now the D2L administrator and also that one of his colleagues is helping faculty to develop more on-line offerings.  This was also one of the reasons I have taken this class.  I am seeing now more and more ways that an on-line environment can work.  But i still want to use it to help my students connect with and get out into the natural world.  I agree with those that say we are acquiring a serious case of nature deficit disorder.  But since that is where young people are, on-line, on cell phones texting and Face Book etc, we have to go meet them where they are to get them connected with where we want them to go.

I heartily agree with the analysis of John Gee that we should not kill creativity with standards met by rote and boring learning just to get good test scores for the 'business invasion" of education, but rather have standards that allowing authentic, inquiry-based science, where kids identifiy problems that are of important to them and that we as educators then join them as guides in the process of invesitgating these problems and their soultions.

I really like the "serious games" readings and read all four of them,  I liked parts 3 and 4 best as they most related to my content area: earth and environmental science.  I think funds for equipment can be an issue, but one could start with cell phones which many kids have.  maybe in another 5 years, the high-end hand-held phones, computers, internet ready devices will become as common as cell phones and as affordable.  I want to move into this area, as we as science educators have to make science more real and, if you will, to have more of the thrill of discovery and sharing of exciting breakthroughs with their peers in their classrooms both real and virtual, both locally and around the world.  I can see that this builds on the best of humans' need to connect with each other and to feel a sense of identity in that connection, that they belong and are part of a community.  It can also challenge one's identity as well, for instance, in reflecting as an American, what my way of living may result in for others on the planet, for example, in looking at one's energy use, food and water consumption, and related ecological footprint issues. 

I liked the idea of community to counter balance our obession and malaise that has been created by our individualism.  In our blog tonight and as I have been hearing everywhere, we are more interconnected than ever before, but have lost some of the humnaity of face to face encounters, where we can see, touch, feel, and smell environmental factors that help us in effective and emphatic communication, both verbal and nonverbal.  Our electronic media are great in many respects, but have dulled some of our sensitivities and finer skills in communicating in a fuller human sense.  When we hunted and gathered thousands of years ago, we had some of the same needs and understood our environmental and social needs skills in some powerful ways that we may need to revisit and relearn.  Cooperative and authentic games could help in this regard, as they engage the best of our human and creative skills in my opinion.  Its okay to compete, but everyting has a negative extreme that it can be pushed to and in the end competition and cooperation are false dichotomies.  We should all challenge ourselves and each other to outdo ourselves, as a community and as individuals, being free to explore and hypothesize but responsible to ourselves and our community.  Again, I see Gee and the other writers on various "serious games" applications as authentically establishing the case that popular games need to be seriously studied to keep education and educators from losing today's children by not reforming pedagogies to reach these children in ways that engage them creatively, as Gee identifies in his review of features of current genres of games.

Last week in our blog my blogmates mentioned using Facebook and I asked them some questions about it.  They shared with me some of what they used it for so i decided to open an account.  Right away I heard from an old friend who I had not seen in 6 years and had known since 1986.  He was grateful to make contact and I found out he is leaving for Taiwan in four weeks, so if I had not been on facebook, i would have missed connecting with him before he left.  I had been wondering how he has been doing for a couple of months.  Three other people I know contacted me and asked to share.  I think that is kind of cool, its a whole new dimension, kind of like having my own website with a message board.

I have projects my students do in cooperative teams and just set up their team/forum areas in D2L.  I will have them do three to four cooperative research projects in each of my classes.  I will review more of the features on D2L and try to integrate more live access to my students during the day and week, again, I will seek help from former students of mine now in my college IT department.

On the gender issues and computer games, most of the ones I have seen are dominated by male action themes.  I have only seen a couple that my nephew, now in 9th grade has.  They are action hero type games, knights and dragons, warrior competition games as far as I have seen.  He is a sensitive kid, and has good friends and is well-liked and an honors student and talented athlete.  He loves science.  I have given him lots of books and DVDs on science and hope he may become a teacher.  Since boys are still taught to compete and can be hazed if they don't, I do not think it is all bad that he plays these hero/warrior games.  He is not obessessed with them and I have watched some neat movies with him and his sister and younger brother as they were growing up from 'Jurassic Park 3', "Walking with Dinosaurs," to 'Toy Story', to 'James and the Giant Peach, among others.  I think that it is fascinating to reflect on what I grew up with as a baby-boomer, an early one born in 1949, and what kids are growing up with today.  While no generation is perfect and there can be serious problems, like texting while driving or trashing and hazing people in cyberspace, I think kids of today have great potential and may solve some of the big challenges facing us today in our own country and around the world.

I am hopeful, its the best game in town and around the world,

Best to you and see you here again soon,


CI 5150 Part 2: Essay on Visiting a Mall for 09-27-09

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Visit to Maplewood Mall, Wednesday evening, September 23, 2009 from 7:15 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

From my entry on reading the paper about Identity and Malls, this site will not be a suprise.  I chose Barnes and Noble Bookstore, a flagship store in the front and center of the Maplewood Mall.  I went in and looked over new releases, blank journals, and books on CD.  I bought a blank half side journal as I walked in with a small pocket one and they were also on sale.  I have a Barnes and Noble membership, so I fed my addiction to paper and writing things down.  I walked over to magazines and looked at the science and music ones.  I bought a couple to read on topics I have taught on or written papers on.  Then I looked at Guitar Magazine, astonished to see Jimmy Page of the former Led Zeppelin group alive and a fairly healthy looking old man on the cover, modeling a new clothes line and holding a beautiful custom built Les Paul Gibson guitar.  I had wondered for years what happend to him, and here he was, live and well, lots of long gray hair.  I looked around at the people there.  Mostly people by themselves, standing or sitting in lounge chairs reading the magazines.  Only one young couple having some laughs at some teen or younger adult magazine article.  Then I went over to the Starbuck's in the store and bought tea and a pastry and sat down to take some notes.  I saw a fellow sit down with his laptop and go to work typing.  He was listening to the store public music piped in and seemed to be busy tapping his leg and foot at double time to the music as he hunched over his laptop.  At least he would not get a loss of circulation and have his leg fall alseep.  Then an Asian couple came in with a baby in a stroller and a young child 3 to 4 walking.  They ordered drinks and the guy checked out the car magazines and then came back.  Seemed like it was a family night out.  They stayed a moment then were off into the larger mall beyond Barnes and Noble.  Next a man and woman with white hair came in and ordered drinks.  I could not tell the relationship, friends? husband and wife?  siblings?  

Then watched a man in jeans and a baseball cap come in and go to the car magazines.  I could see that magazine area from the table I was sitting at in Starbuck's Cafe within the Barnes and Noble Bookstore.  Okay, a magazine here for everyone.  They had every possible legitimate topic on the racks.  I asked the coffee barristas what time Barnes and Noble and the Mall closed, and they said 10:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., respectively, so I headed out into the larger mall areas for a quick tour at 8:45 p.m.  I went to make a pit stop and passed lots of stores and the food court.  The merchants at kiosks were closing up, as were some stores.  Not a lot of customers, but groups of people from families with kids, to groups of teenagers on their own, in pairs and larger groups walking around.  I returned to the main hall area of the mall from the food court and found a bench to sit on.  I was writting a lot in my journal.  Two women asked me was I writting a journal entry, I said 'yes, for a graduate class.'


In short order, 9:00 p.m. came and shops closed up, then a security guard came over to where I was sitting and said I had to leave.  I said certainly and got up and walked back into Stabucks in Barnes and Noble Bookstore, where an unusual thingb happened that I had not expected.  It was like the diner everyone goes to after the concert, dance, or the bar closes for the evening.  There were all kinds of people that showed up and sat and had soup, food and something to drink.  A mom with two young teen girls who were all stylishly dressed and must have been clothes shopping, the gray haired lady and her man/husband/friend.  The gray haired lady was hard at work on her laptop while her man read magazines.  The guy on his laptop with the twittering, jiggling leg was still there.  The music seem like a dreamy teen arrangement with some tamed down Jimmy Hendrix guitar work.  Across a divider from me as a high school or college or maybe both woman student.  She was hard at work on a paper that looked like it required references and research.  Two younger women who looked like they were out of the 1960s were talking animatedlly and then went over to the books area of the store.  Twice staff came through the cafe picking up books, reshelving things, checking at the coffee shop.  Then came an announcement over the public address system that seemed somewhat like the last call at a bar or the last announcement as an aircraft lands at an airport and the plane is taxiing to the terminal.  We would like at this time and so on, bring your purchases to the register, we will be closing at 10:00 p.m. and opne tomorrow from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.   I finished up my 5 to 6 pages of notes and then decided I would take off and head home.  It had been interesting.  When I was divorced back in 1994, I made regular visits to coffee shops to read and write and hang out.  Often I would talk with people I would see there.  It seemed like old times in a way.  I have heard that coffee shops have kind of a quasi-club-like and community role that they play for society.  Sure, you have to buy coffee, but in this setting, I could have pulled books and magazines and read them all evening, hung out, talked to people and passed the time pleasantly. 

I do think one could develop some kind of community around a coffee shop depending on how often they went and if they were outgoing and offered friendship to people they might see there over and over again.  My best friend and I meet for coffee at various shops in Highland Park and as regulars at these shops have often had some chats with people we meet there, of a variety of walks of life.

For now, that's my entry, Best to you, John 

CI 5150 Week 3: Part 1 Malls: A Response to Our Reading

Reading:  Transforming Social Spaces: Female Identity and the Mall

The reading did not surprise me at all.  I am old enough to know, at 60 years of age and having been in debt a number of times with credit cards, bank lines of credit, and department store chrage accounts, that we live in a culture that commerically preys on people and promises "satisfaction" if one just has that next purchase of whatever item it is that you are addicted too as a consumer and are tempted to get under your belt, and which puts you under control of the consumer debt and banking systems apparatus of control. 

I have the greatest sympathy and compassion for anxiety and depression prone women who seek to feel some kind of control of their lives by shopping, alone or with friends.  The stores are full of displays and visual "candy" for them and for men and for people of all ages.  With your buying history, sellers know what specials to alert you about by e-mail, by US mail, or by target market catalogues.  It is a form of subtle control and entrapment, maybe even enslavement to the credit system.  I agree with the closing line of the article, it is a bondage one is lured into and the credit companies and the merchandisers are the masters. 

For example, I am a college teacher.  Several times I have bought DVD lecture series from The Teaching Company on various science topics that I teach.   I now get a catalogue every month with sales that have deadline dates to order, where they will bundle together courses for lower prices.  I have been hooked in several times and am in danger of building a DVD course library that I have an extremely hard time making time to watch!   Yet as a knowledge worker, I am lured into a fantasy world:  in the comfort of my own home and on my own laptop, I can have some great professor/instructor teach me their whole course, without leaving my house or paying much tuition.  Its more than that, I have the sense of acquistion of knowledge even before I actually watch the DVDs, and I sometimes think that they prey on the lust for knowledge people in academia often have.  It is like an invitation to 'know everything" sort of like the perfect world of clean house, perfect hair, perfect decorations and on and on that the TV monitors in the Sears store promised to the overstressed housewife that she could have if she just had that fantastic vacuum cleaner that the store was selling.   I have been in  the same kind of 'transported utopia' in the presence of The Teaching Company website, e-mailed advertising, or in viewing their catalogues, for which I get one per month, with various discounts and bundled lower cost packages of courses.

With a full college teaching load of 10 semester credits and 140 students, a graduate program, and a two graduate course grant projectat 8 semester credits with 22 teachers, I would have to really sequester myself to begin to make a dent in the number of courses I have bought.  I have watched one of them, a full semester astronomy course, 6 years ago, before getting married, and parts of three others.  I keep trying to discipline myself to use my garage-sale purchased Nordic Trac machine to exercise while I watch more of these, but am not there at this time, or even close.  In summer, I can't stay inside.  I confess, I have been caught by merchandisers to build  DVD library that I struggle to view.  I think the article has it wrong about only women being drawn on and controlled by buying to find identity, meaning and relaxation, or to find community and belonging.  I think and have read that men have an even greater difficulty resisting the pulls of commericalism and buying to feel better about themselves.  Moreover, the mail is everywhere now, on-line 24/7, in the mailbox, out along the freeway, and sometimes one can get hooked in a hunt for an item going to more that one mall in a day, week or month.  One has to have a car and be able to buy gasoline to get the whole fix of keeping up with buying to relieve anxiety, angst and edges of alienation and the loneliness of the new 'individualism.'   In this era, pseudo consumer identity has become more dominant and community is a rare interlude; everyone is too busy to keep in touch face to face, except for blips and quips on-line

For me, it hardly stops with DVD courses from The Teaching Company.  Next are books on CD to listen to in the car while driving.  These have actually helped me quite a bit in terms of learning, but still, there is the temptation to rack up the number of these I have for my library and not have time to listen to all of them.  Moreover, once you have heard them, or listened to each CD over and over and over as I do in my car, you have consumed the content and now want more.  It becomes a treadmill of buying CDs of books on audio which is not cheap.  And then there is the wish to have it in print as well if I do not already, so on and on it goes on the quest for, or lust for knowledge and the fantasy that one will know ever greater things.  In part this can happen.  I have listened to some remarkable books on CD for example, Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," and Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Crowded and Flat"  which I listened to on long interstate car trips, among other books on CDs at various bookstores.

And then there are hard copy books and magazines.  I frequent Half Price Books, Barnes and Nobles and sometimes Borders.  I also check out other independent bookstores and used bookstores.  There is the same wish and utopian fantasy to want to have endless resources and knowledge, like the housewife that wants to have the perfect home in our assigned article, I have a utopian wish to "know it all."  I do use the public libraries as well, but there I run into limited times I have have the books in my possession, which being a slower consumer of the content, and slow to return them creates issues with the library system.  Also, it takes longer to get titles the local library does not have so I am oftenn tempted to buy books for my own personal library instead.  Moreover, there is an illusion of having control and power in reserve to have the book on my own desk, stack on the floor, bedside, or reading table.

I have been teaching since 1991, but was a graduate student for my master's degree prior to that time.  I also had a deisre to have a huge armada of books and references at that time.  I did however use the school library, and had a massive number of books checked out.  Today as a graduate student, I have a huge library of research papers as PDFs saved on my laptop and desktop and additional terabyte drives to store vast literature search results from my course work.  Having  a 3.5 terabyte capacity beyond my computers themselves and numerous portable drives feeds that desire to have utopian wishes and dreams of 'knowing it all,' which of course becomes harder and harder to even imagine being able to do as one learns more about varoius disciplines.

There are edges of others in here as well, field equipment for my outdoor geoscience work, clothes for the classroom, for casual, for this for that, and electronic toys: digital recorders, digital cameras, desire for a digital camcorder, etc, and then it goes obselete, has issues, has bugs, crashes, needs maintance, and on and on.

Last, my great love, music, LPs, CDs, DVDs of concerts, stereo equipment, guitars, electric guitars, amplifiers, recording equipment, and related accessories, more mailing lists, stores, discounts, specials, and so on.  It never stops and it is a trap, a system of control and even for those whoe become successful artists, its is a treadmill to meet recording contract requirements and keep the sales coming, to feed the commerical contract form of bondage.

While the article seems to imply that Marx has the right perspective, I am skeptical.  The solutions seem to me there to range from Pol Pot's massacre in Cambodia and Mao's Great Leap Forward and then the Cultural Revolution on the other end of a false choice dichotomy to the present manic economic growth in China that is raising people out of poverty, but addicting them to the same unsustainable lifetsyle we have here in the US, where if we all live like we do here, in the US at present, we will need over 5 Planet Earth's to do so or someone will have to make some adjustments.  I think we need some fresh perspective.  I would assign everyone on the planet to read "Hot, Crowded and Flat" by Thomas Friedman, at least it would make us honest about the incongruent consumption model next to ecological reality. 

I will rest it there for now, Best to All, John   



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