Thursday, March 29, 2018

Gen X Parenting & Utah's "Free Range Parent" Law

The recent passage - and news coverage - of Utah's "free-range parenting" law got me to thinking again about an idea I've had for a while - the idea of "Gen X parenting." These two terms are related in reflecting or emphasizing the sort of laissez-faire, liberatarian, hands-free approach that many of us who grew up in the 70s and early 80s experienced with our parents. It's not that our parents were particularly aloof or dismissive of parenting - hell, we all got spanked for discipline ... and regularly so. Our parents weren't unaware of what we were doing, and they weren't shy about correcting our behaviors. Yet, they preceded the concept of the helicopter parent that has been refined and practiced so obviously by Baby Boomer parents of the Millennial generation. The parents of Generation X didn't obsess over protecting us and micromanaging our daily lives. During summer breaks and weekends, we were generally sent "outside to play," and it often happened that we left the house in the late morning and didn't return until dinner. We wandered and played and hung out and got in and out of mischief, and while we were never very far from home, we weren't often observed during our play.

We've all seen the memes and posts about the relaxed and casual ways our parents thought about our safety in the 70s and 80s - riding in the back of a pick-up truck, no seatbelts in the back of the station wagon, sitting up front and helping dad or grandpa steer, riding bikes barefoot and without helmets, etc. Heck, we were the first generation of latch-key kids, and we logged quite a bit of time on our own, taking care of ourselves, and also being rather careless more often than not. We joke about it now and remind everyone of how we "survived." We turned out okay (at least we think we did). No one, of course, is arguing that drinking during pregnancy or dismissing concerns about second-hand smoke is a good idea or an admirable part of a Generation X childhood. That said, we don't argue that our upbringing was perfect or the best way to raise kids. We've learned a few things about health and safety that make perfect sense to us - car seats and bike helmets and seatbelts are reasonable concessions and obvious upgrades. Thus, while I've raised my kids to wear bike helmets, I've never had a problem with them riding their bikes over to a friend's house - in fact, I encourage it. "Can I have a ride to the park, Dad?  What? It's a beautiful day out. Ride your ass over there."

That "free range" idea, which apparently had to be written in to law in Utah of all places, is the essence of Generation X, the grown-up latch-key kids. I first thought of the idea of "Gen X Parenting" back in 2008 when a writer named Lenore Skenazy made headlines with her column in the New York Sun describing how she allowed her 9-year-old son to take the subway home by himself from Bloomingdale's in New York. Skenazy became the target of much criticism for her allegedly careless, if not downright dangerous, parenting decision. She was decried and turned into a pariah of irresponsibility. All I could think of was my own childhood, prowling around on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River with little knowledge of my parents. When I came home, I simply told them I'd been "playing." And, as I've raised my children in Colorado, I recall thinking that if my son wasn't exploring the state park near our neighborhood by the age of ten, I was gonna kick him out of the house in the morning and not let him back in until he had visible signs of mud and maybe few scratches. Meagan Flynns of the Washington Post recently recounted the story of Lenore Skanzy in her coverage of the Utah law. That was the first I saw of the term "free range parenting."

Nah, I thought. That's just Gen X.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Is It Time for the Next Facebook?

With the news that Mark Zuckerberg is refusing to testify about how he and Facebook failed to protect users' data, and the financial impact of the Cambridge Analytics scandal continuing to hit Facebook and its investors in the pocket book, I wonder how many young comp sci wizards are out there working away at creating the next Facebook to tempt users away from the Zuckerberg mess. You go, geeks. All it takes is an algorithm, a clever name, and a guarantee to not sell (your soul and) everyone’s data to Cambridge Analytics.

The story of how Facebook's empire began to unravel has been well documented in publications like Wired and the Atlantic, and the speculation continues regarding the ultimate impact on Facebook's viability if any significant number of users began to latch on to the #DeleteFacebook movement. In the world of tech, social media, and innovation, there is always another app or site or platform looking to capture the world's narcissistic but fleeting attention span, though few have been able to harness those forces as well as Mark Zuckerberg and his techies. That said, nothing is forever, and Facebook could certainly go the way of MySpace if he loses the Millenials and iGen. They already prefer other platforms like SnapChat (and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook).

If I were a techie - and I'm not - I'd be thinking about how to write the app and the platform that would allow Facebook users to migrate their photos and memories and friends to a new site that (at least on the surface) appears to provide better protection of privacy and data while still offering the comfort and ease that Facebook does. Of course, it will take some research into how Zuck pulled off his act of (social media-) world domination. While someone writes the code, the young entrepreneur should consider checking out some books like:

Sunday, March 25, 2018

I don't get why .... guns can't be regulated

Here's an exercise I think comes from podcaster : It's called: "I don't get why ..." Just investigating issues & seeking clarity/understanding. For example, "I don't get why .... licensing and registration of gun ownership & ammo purchases isn't just common sense."

What's your "I don't get why ...?

Guns, Violence, Misogyny, and America's Masculinity Problem

From the #MeToo movement to this weekend's March for Our Lives, Americans are confronting some of our societal challenges head on, calling out and naming the problems. The voices are demanding change and offering solutions. Of course, the first step is always admitting you have a problem. And, despite our strengths and assurances from Steven Pinker that we're actually living in the best of times, we have some issues to talk about. As I've watched and read during the past week or so, I've been leaning toward one interpretation of the problem - it's our manhood. Or lack of it.

Incidents of gun violence and misogyny seem to have a pretty clear correlation to skewed ideas of manhood and masculinity, and if that is so, it's a problem and a challenge that we can most certainly address and solve. A key voice in this discussion is, and must be, Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor specializing in gender (specifically masculinity) studies at Stony Brook University. The Denver Post has a review of Kimmel's latest - Healing From Hate: How Young Men Get into - and out of - Violent Extremism.  Kimmel researches and shares informative, yet baffling, stories of young men who are drawn into groups like the Islamic State or Neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups. To them, it's not about politics or ideology as much as "it was about being a man; acting like a man ... I felt like I was doing something noble; it gave me meaning." It's not hard to see information from his research connecting to the problem of skewed ideas about proving themselves through abuse of women and incidences of gun violence.

As I read about Kimmel's research, I was reminded of several pieces about guns and gun violence recently, and I couldn't help but wonder about this problem we have with firearms. Chuck Plunkett of the Denver Post poses "Let's Stop Wearing Our Guns on our Sleeves," and I agree with his sentiments about guns and gun ownership. Unlike anywhere in the world, we fetishize guns and obsess over the concept of having them. Having grown up in southern Illinois in the 1970s, I too recall a time when guns were clearly a part of life, but not fetishized and flaunted as they are today. And I recall going to a couple NRA-sponsored day camps that were entirely about gun safety and responsible possession. We can return to those days, but it will take leadership from the gun owners. Doing so will require many men taking a wise and mature stand on the issue.

The problem of outward and even aggressive gun possession is the connotation that goes along with being "armed and ready," and I think much can be connected to the American males concept of self and manhood. We could learn much by pondering the thoughts in Jennifer Carlson's piece for Vox, "Why so many American men want to be the 'good guy with the gun.'" It's related to our ideas about masculinity and the need to prove it in only one way - aggressively. How can we educate our boys so they don't see misogyny and violence as a manifestation of manhood? We could start by paying attention to thinkers and writers like Kimmel and Lewis Howes, whose research and program about The Mask of Masculinity offer insight into the male mindset and how it can go right and wrong in a society and culture that too often sends the wrong message. 

We can do so much more to address our challenges, for as Vox writer German Lopez writes, "I've covered gun violence for years. The solutions aren't a mystery." But I'm not just focusing on ideas about gun regulation - I'm talking about how we perceive the problems associated with skewed ideas about masculinity. In my class, I've just finished reading Tim O'Brien's incredible novel about Vietnam and storytelling, The Things They Carried. One of its most powerful lines is "I was a coward - I went to war." American society and culture are built upon traditions of individual character and self reliance, but the nation would not have survived and thrived without that character coming together in support of the community. There is much in good in us and our young men - but we can do much more to support the positive character that builds strong communities. Addressing our challenges of gun violence and misogyny are potentially our next great civil rights movement.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Support The Guardian and a la carte news consumption

I like the British newspaper The Guardian for numerous reasons, and I like to support their journalism by making occasional donations to the cause. It seems whenever I am searching for a bit of insight on some sort of cultural development or another, The Guardian will pop up in my web searches with a particularly relevant piece of news or commentary. For example, I am just diving into Zadie Smith's new book of essays Feel Free, and I went looking for a bit more info about her career arc. The search led me to this piece, "Zadie Smith: I have a very chaotic and messy mind." The article is just the sort of additional flavor that I wanted to add to my connection with the writer.

However, what led me to this post is the unique offer that comes from The Guardian every time I seek an article. They do not have paywalls like the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, but instead ask for a donation to support the cause. I love this, and I wish print sources like newspapers would offer more opportunities similar to a pay-for-what-you-read idea. I do not need to or want to subscribe to the Guardian because I probably want to read a dozen or so of their pieces every six months. Thus, the idea of spending $100-$200 on a subscription like the WSJ or New York Times or WashPost want me to do is a bit ridiculous ... and I won't bite. I already subscribe to the Denver Post because it's my local news, and I also have subscriptions to magazines like Harpers and Time.

At the same time, I love reading the Guardian, and I appreciate the accessibility. As a result I support the paper by donating a small sum ($15 today) to the Guardian every once in a while. I feel like it's a more reasonable a la carte option for their content. I simply won't read them daily, but I am happy to purchase what I want. It'd be great if the WSJ, the Post, and the Times would do the same.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Save the Denver Post from Hedge Fund Thuggery

The metropolitan area of Denver, not to mention the state of Colorado, was rattled this week by the announcement that the hedge fund owners of the Denver Post planned to lay off an additional thirty workers, gutting an already anemic newsroom staff to an unsustainable number of perhaps sixty. It was real news that elicited actual gasps and tears among the journalists in the room. On the surface it may have appeared that this was once again an example of the fading power of print newspapers, as fewer people are reading hard copies of the news. It could have been quickly passed off as one more sad example of a failing industry. Yet, that's not the case for the Denver Post.

In reality, there are far more sinister forces at work - forces which led DP writer John Wenzel to comment, "The Denver Post is not dying - it's being murdered." And he should know. The layoffs - not buyouts of aging staff - are actually a form of corporate patricide as the hedge fund bumpkins at Alden Global Capital and its subsidiary Digital First Media seem to be cutting the paper's staff to a point where it can't help but fail. The actions are twofold:  to cover losses in other parts of Alden's business and simply undermine and destroy the fourth estate of the institution of journalism. What the Washington Post has speculated as "the strip mining of journalism" is the apparent attempt of the owners to destroy the company.

Denver and Colorado must not let this happen.

Alden needs to have its hand forced. I’ve thought of a couple of possible ways to do this — most of them certainly quixotic — but something needs to be done. The governor needs to call on Alden/Digital First to sell the Post. Now. This is his job. He’s the leader of the state. The leading news site in his state is under what could well be a fatal attack.

As community members and educated citizens, we all know that a thriving and free press is the life's blood of a democratic republic. (We need look no further than the increasingly autocratic state of Russia for confirmation). A civilized society based on democratic ideals and free (or actually mixed) market capitalism must have newspapers staffed by real journalists who are on the ground and working the beat to get the news to the public. Granted, we can concede and discuss the challenges of media bias, and we should certainly continue the debate about news and commentary being distinctly different. But that should not lead to the outright dismissal of the need for papers. The Denver Post has done exceptional (and exceptionally important) work lately on key societal issues, ranging from the opioid epidemic to the challenges of housing costs to the investigation of sexual harassment to the budgetary challenges of the state government.

We need a strong and independent Denver Post, and we need the political and financial leaders of Colorado to vocally support its survival. The Washington Post was saved by billionaire Jeff Bezos a few years ago, and we have a few billionaires in the Rocky Mountain State who could do the same for the Denver Post. Phil Anschutz must be encouraged to revive his interest in purchasing the Denver Post. If he's no longer interested, then it should become the mission of John Malone of Liberty Media or Charlie Ergen from the Dish Nework or Pat Stryker or Tim Gill. Anyone who has any ability to reach out to these leaders and philanthropists should do so for the good of Colorado. But it's not just about finding a buyer.

Alden and Digital Media must be strongly encouraged to sell the Denver Post.

The political and business leaders of Colorado must take action to advocate for the needs of the state. We need a strong and secure print newspaper centered in Denver. The paper is profitable and growing, and it must remain. So, I am calling on Governor Hickenlooper and the leaders of Colorado to do everything they can to lobby for the sale of the Denver Post to a local investor or  group of investors who will protect the institution of the free press.

I encourage you to do the same.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Why Should State Workers Risk Retirement for PERA Reform Bill?

Senator Tate & Representative Pabon,

Regarding the PERA Reform bill and the defined contribution option for future members, I have a simple but very important question:  Will a shift from PERA's defined benefit to a 401k-style defined contribution option also include commensurate Social Security? I ask because it has to, or it is a non-starter for many constituents who would support it.

The financial reality for every American who has a defined contribution plan like a 401k or IRA is that they also receive Social Security or a defined benefit. It may not be much, and it may not be the primary income of retirement (though for many it is), but it is there as a bit of security. Asking PERA members to step away from any defined benefit and rely solely on the income from a single 401k-style plan is asking them to do what no other worker in the United States does, or risks. The basic concept of Social Security is the small modicum of security in case of an economic downtown, or perhaps risky and ill-advised advice from financial consultants.

The defined-contribution option is very appealing, especially for younger workers. specifically because of the portability option. Currently, members can be stuck in positions for 20, 25, and 30 years in order to "get their retirement." The idea of workers being able to shift careers and locations when they desire is actually quite appealing for the education profession. But there must be some degree of security.

As far as I can see, your current proposal contains none. I would like to take an active position on this bill, but I can't do so without some clarification, and I would love to get some more information from you.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Whom do you trust & respect?

A friend recently posted this question for discussion on social media: "As an adult who is an authority figure you respect? Not should respect, but actually do." 

Many people immediately think of specific individuals like their family, while other people will note specific professions or titles. It's no surprise that fields like doctors and police officers and the military are commonly respected, though plenty of people will also question whether those traditionally respected roles always and implicitly deserve respect. Political leaders not surprisingly rank low on the list, though that seems a bit disappointing considering the way we have so revered some of our finest leaders from history. And, of course, in contemporary America, we will mindlessly support and respect people from one political party while adamantly dismissing the opposition wholeheartedly.

I’ll say this: it’s not the job, position, uniform, or institution. It’s just about the person and character/integrity. That’s a pretty standard view for Gen Xers - we were the first generation to grow up witnessing the public trust being violated by the Presidency, the priesthood, and other titles once thought to be sacrosanct. So, now we view institutions with caution, and we raise our kids to do the same. That’s probably a good thing - though it’s a shame to think about what’s been lost.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Celebrating Culture & Diversity

Each February I work with a student leadership group at my high school to coordinate an event called Ethnic Fest. It is our celebration of culture and diversity. This year I did a little write up for the YourHub section of the Denver Post. Here's my review of the night:

Cherry Creek Students Get Their Culture On

From eating crepes and churros to listening to Celtic guitar and K-Pop to dancing to West African drums and Polynesian rhythms, Cherry Creek high school students came together on the first day of February to embrace the many ethnic and cultural niches of its community. In what is billed as “a night of food, friends, and fun,” Ethnic Fest is Cherry Creek’s annual celebration of culture and diversity. Hundreds of Creek students filled the halls of the IC and Fine Arts buildings as they visited a seemingly endless string of booths hosted by clubs such as the African-American Leadership Council, Chinese Honor Society, and the International Exchange Club. Students also had the opportunity to visit four separate stage and performance areas for musical, dance, and spoken-word performances.

Ethnic Fest dates back to 1994 when a group of students first envisioned an event that could honor the growing diversity and varied backgrounds that make up the Creek community. The evening of cultural celebration is now sponsored yearly by Cherry Creek’s Youth Advisory Board, which organizes and plans the event through collaboration with other student clubs as well as outside organization such as music and dance schools. This year’s event featured musical performances by Skean Dubh Celtic guitar, the Colorado Mestizo Dancers, a Mexican folk dance group, the Kalama Polynesian Dancers, and Koffi Togo, a West African drummer. “I love Koffi Togo,” one Creek parent noted, “He’s just so entertaining but also great to listen to as he explains the various instruments and beats. And, it’s so fun that he gets the kids up drumming and dancing.” Audience participation was also a big part of the Kalama performance, as the lead dancer encouraged students to join him on the stage as he narrated the story behind the dances.

Other performances featured the talents of current Creek students. The tempo of the evening was set from the minute fest visitors entered the doors as Creek senior and working DJ Ari Kutzer welcomed the crowd with beats and popular music. His professional sound system was helpful for several performers on the Activities stage, including the Mestizo dancers. Kutzer also pumped up the crowd toward the end of the evening as a group of freshman students performed a set of K-Pop, choreographed Korean dance music. The group’s leader had visited Ethnic Fest the year before after seeing posters at West Middle School. “When I saw students performing last year,” she told event organizers, “I just knew I had to be a part of it.”

Other students performed full musical sets in the school’s Black Box Theater, and they shared individual songs, poems, and spoken word performances in the Open-Mic area hosted by the Youth Advisory Board and emceed by district alum and slam poet, Jovan Mays. A jazz/rock/funk quartet known as ACI, headed by seniors Clare Hudson and Hank Friedman, played to a full house in their fourth consecutive Ethnic Fest. And, new to the Ethnic Fest student line-up this year was sophomore David Weinstein who performed an eclectic set of songs on the guitar and piano.

Ethnic Fest is designed to be informative as well as entertaining, and many of the booths and performances offered cultural education. Creek parent Donna Chrisjohn (Sicangu and Dine) offered a presentation and performance honoring the culture of indigenous peoples. Ms. Chrisjohn’s daughter joined her at a booth featuring various pieces of Lakota art and traditional apparel. Her daughter modeled clothing and dance as mom shared stories of Lakota history. The Ghana Education Collaborative, a student group, hosted a booth selling bracelets and jewelry to raise money for health and literacy efforts in the West African country. Eco-Action club, another student organization, used its booth to inform visitors about renewable energy as they also raised money in collaboration with Grid Alternative, a Denver-based non-profit.  The club’s goal is to raise $5000 to install solar panels on the home of a veteran living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.    

Ethnic Fest was a night full of culture and connections. For some students, their enthusiasm for the evening pushed the limits of the 5pm-8pm event schedule. Even as clubs were cleaning up their booths, and a student crew was taking down the lights and array of multicultural flags and banners, senior Andrea Arias didn’t want to leave at the end of the night, hoping for one more poem at the open mic. “I can’t believe it’s my last Ethnic Fest,” she said. “I’ve come all four years of high school, and it’s my favorite night. I’m really going to miss it next year.”