A nice essay by Isaac Asimov on Creativity and Where it Comes From

And he unintentionally explains why Academia, as it is structured today, is perhaps the most elegant idea-killer ever invented.


Some choice quotes and comment after the break.

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Some spelling tips for deciphering badly-spelled Cree

Here are some simple correspondences I have learned to use when trying to decipher the words people send me. (Warning: They don’t always work!) The bad spelling is on the left, the standard spelling is on the right.

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For Academics who have been Mobbed

If you have experienced any of the kind of stuff I talked about recently, maybe me talking about it will make you talk about it. I hope so. Sunlight is a good disinfectant, and this kind of thing needs lots and lots and lots of sunlight.

The truth is, academics is a wild preserve of bullying and mobbing. It is a place where prejudices are paraded around openly, where people are cut from their jobs because they dribble their soup, or are Israeli, or have an Asian last name. I think, as an exercise, I will remember some of my lowest moments over the next few weeks.

If you’ve been mobbed or bullied out of your job, you don’t have to be ashamed – even though everything will crush you towards that state. Injustice is the way of the world. We live in a world where children get incinerated in the crosshairs of billion dollar drone systems run by people in air-conditioned offices. We live in a world where most people don’t even have clean water while others dump clean water on their head for a twitter stunt, and families of 12 starve to death so you can have cheap palm oil. We can’t expect justice or fairness. There is no shame in being cheated, abused, or mistreated. It just means you’re human. Better people than me have experienced worse treatment.

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Ebola reminds me of a moment when I discovered I was utterly alone

Way back in the day, I was a student at a community college back in my home state of Wisconsin. I couldn’t afford to go to a big college, and I worked full-time for minimum wage. (I eventually got a job at a lumber yard that paid a bit better, $7/hr! I was in heaven!) That was really my only option to go to college, and I was scared to pieces by the prospect. (I used to go out, between classes, and sit in the park next door, in fact. In Winter.)

One of the classes I took there, back in the day (ca. 1998) was called “Global Catastrophes.” It was a huge lecture – biggest class I’d ever been in anywhere. About 200 students in a big theater seating situation.

I’ll never forget a particular lecture we had, and I think of it every time people make proposals about Ebola today. It was one of those moments in life where you look around and suddenly realize there is absolutely no one else – you are completely, totally, undeniably alone.

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The Blue Shirt

Last school year, when I was marching myself to the coliseum every day, talking myself from 12th street to 13th, 13th to 14th in the -50C snowbanks of the town I lived in, my daughter was sitting at home. She was three.

Her days started with a basic question: Daddy work today? Yes or no.

Because, if yes, he was not here to see, and he would come home later and throw himself on the ground by the couch and not be able to stand up for several hours. He would be pale, drawn, sick. Often, he had trouble talking. She would come and bring him pretend tea in a cup that doubled as a doll head, little cakes made out of legos, a bowl of rice that also happened to be a plastic acorn. All cooked on her playschool washing machine in the closet – a personal kitchen. He never got better.

But if no, she could sit on his lap and watch Bugs Bunny cartoons. They might go outside and shovel some snow, maybe build a snowman. She wouldn’t have to make him medicine.

Some days, he couldn’t make it in for work early and went later. That’s when the confusion set in. She’d think he wasn’t working, and then suddenly he would pick himself up and begin to pack his backpack for The Road. And then she’d look out the window, into the snow, and see him trudge off, wreathed in steam that was freezing to his jacket.

So she’d ask again. “Daddy work today?” And we’d say “no,” but how could she be sure? So she’d ask again later, just to check. Dozens of times a day.

After a week, I realized that the only way to make her feel certain I wasn’t going was to do something visual. I pulled out an old blue pullover, all stained. If I wore that, I couldn’t possibly go to work. So if I was wearing it, I would be safe at home, wouldn’t I? I would. She could know for sure.

And that is how the winter of 2014 became the winter of the Blue Shirt.

You “aboriginal” activists, with your value system and your certainty, your Deep Concern for Human Rights, you forgot the most basic value. Other people are also human. Even me.

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Native Studies as a Human Bomb Factory

This is going to be an angry post.

During my recent ordeal, a very telling thing happened. The head of Native Studies openly bragged to the Dean that I was not an isolated case. They do the kind of ambushing of white faculty that they did to me from time to time. It was “good” for us to “learn” our place. When we teach a different perspective on a topic, or we teach on a topic that Native Studies thinks should be taboo for non-aboriginals (even if we say things that they agree with), they make sure we suffer for it. What was the Dean’s solution, if I didn’t want to be attacked like this? Easy! Just don’t teach on those topics! Which topics? Any ones Native Studies doesn’t like! Which topics are those? You’ll find out when you’re attacked.

And so, as the White Man in Native Studies, I was supposed to live in a Kafkaesque world of perennial guilt, waiting tepidly, and with much anxiety, for the Important People (so-determined by their status cards or skin color) to tell me when it was okay for me to venture out into the classroom. (Spoiler Warning: That didn’t happen.)

This “learning” of place is generally accomplished by using aboriginal students as weapons against non-aboriginal faculty. It is the university equivalent of recruiting suicide bombers, and the “bomber” is left, psychologically and economically, very much like their counterpart – eviscerated, demolished, crippled. They’re strictly a one-time use, which is why the faculty is always looking for new recruits.

And the department head was right; I talked to a number of faculty at the university, and each one of them had a vivid, ugly memory of an aboriginal student that attacked them. The message is clear: The human bombs will explode in your classroom eventually. Stay long enough at the university, and You’ll Get Yours.

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A conversation

Sitting outside of a Walmart in a new city, with my 4-year-old daughter on a sunny afternoon, waiting to get picked up. Two Cree women get out of a taxi and pass by us. They are speaking Cree, talking (in Cree – N dialect) about waiting for a family member to pay them back for something.

My daughter: “They speak something. Maybe not Zhongwen.” (She can speak Mandarin)
Me: “No, they’re speaking Cree.”
Her: “Cree. What Cree?”
Me: “It’s a language, like Zhongwen, people speak it. Cree people.”
Her: “You speak Cree?”
Me: “I used to. I used to teach it, remember? When we lived in ____ and before we moved here?”
Her: “uh huh.”
Her: “You don speak Cree anymore.”
Me: “No. I don’t.”
Her: “You white, daddy. White people not allowed to speak Cree.”
Me: “Yep. I’m white.”
Her: “I’m white, too.”
Me: “Yep! You, too.”

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