Friday, January 29, 2016

Reparations for black Americans

I support financial reparations and an official apology for the descendants of African slaves in America.

Here's why.

1) Significant American prosperity was attained from African slave work in captivity.

2) Programs like the New and Fair Deals were heavily bent by southern Democrats (in absence of a Republican party to let the South more effectively answer 'the Negro question') to exclude blacks from much needed assistance.

3) Their exclusion from significant federal programs to address the Great Depression and subsequent expansion via the Fair Deal was at the hands of local administrators, and the southern Democrats in Congress--because of these inequities, based in racism, that dramatically reduced significant aid to many Americans, I believe that descendants of black slaves are owed a significant, radical redistribution of wealth.

4) It WILL be expensive. But so are wars. If you take the immediate cost of the Iraq War ($1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans) and divide that by the number of current black Americans (45 million), you get about $38,000 per person.

Now, I just used those numbers to get a handle on the order of magnitude (using recent government expenditures on a significant program), but it shows that this is a possible thing to accomplish. I don't know if that number is appropriate, or how it would be disbursed to ensure that the right people get it, but the number is manageable, and would do significant good. In all likelihood, the largest hurdle will be to administer such a program fairly and to those with agreed upon criteria.

The criteria and their application will not be a trivial matter to come to an agreement on.

Much of the time reparations are dismissed immediately by white folks (see statistics in Darity paper, link below). Maybe the thing seems unmanageable or too difficult to do properly, but I think that's garbage. There is historical "evidence" and reason to make financial reparations and based on my (extremely) rough calculation, financial ability.


I've been reading "When Affirmative Action Was White" by Ira Katznelson, a Columbia professor of political science and history. Premises 2) and 3) are based on this book. I highly recommend it.

Additionally, an academic paper, "Forty Acres and a Mule in the 21st Century," written by William Darity at Duke. Note: he messes up the math pretty hard when he divides 1.3 Trillion by 30 Million to get 'slightly more than 400,000 per recipient' instead of 43,000 per recipient, but the point still stands. And my math is pretty close to estimates that he and other historians have come to! *pats self on back*

Budding film maker

Our minds are strange places--mine is no exception. A favorite activity of mine is to find and make non-sequiturs or just do things that are inexplicable.

To that end, I made two shorts that are a little inexplicable in their existence--the joke is really that I made them.

The first one is from a year and a half ago. I was bored in my parents' house, waiting to start work after grad school, and had time, so I spent it filming stuff around the house. I was telling my friend Mark (formidable film maker/cinematographer/director/sound recorder) about the project and figuring out where I would take it. We were taking video of a solar eclipse at the time, so I had the audio of our discussion of it. I ended up taking that audio and using it for the film. In all, this is the result of work spanning about a month of video taking and editing.
The idea was very meta, and context/theme-less, which is why I thought it was funny. Like I say in the film--it's not good.

3711: a tongue-in-cheek sensory collision

A second film in that vein is the one I made most recently. Its premise is, 'what if I made a movie about the transition scenes that always get cut from films?'--the in-between parts that don't contribute to the story. I made it over the course of a few hours in two days. This is that:

Getting Up (short)

Then there are the ones that I care about. The projects that have actual meaning to me.

My Grandpa Split made a bunch of clocks for my aunts and uncle. I wanted to get him on video telling it, because he loved to spend time with us, and he loved to make clocks, and he also loved to tell us about them and make sure that we were caring for them.
This is his story about that process (there is an extended cut with some more too):

Grandpa's Grandfather Clocks

A second one that is important to me is the engagement of my best friend Cam to his now-wife Kate. I already wrote about it.

The Proposal

I was still kind of learning the D7000 at the time, but I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, given my dearth of experience in these matters. The moment was chronicled, and I really hope that they are happy with it, because they're amazing and mean a lot to me.

Next: a comedic/educational short with the premise: 'what is your favorite shape?'

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Teaching recap // Fall 2015

I've had the course evaluations for a couple weeks now. I skimmed them briefly, but only today took the time to summarize them for myself to make sense of how I'm going to proceed into the spring semester (I'm teaching the same course).

Taken with sufficient grains of salt, the student criticisms were enormously helpful.

Unsurprisingly, the course practices that helped the students most were, in order:
1) Homework
2) Problems worked in class
3) Textbook
4) Power Point slides
5) Lecture

Well, that was humbling, to be sure. And again, not unexpected.

The summary of student comments on how I can improve:
Write larger/neater
Be more organized
Engage class more with examples
Don't just read off the PowerPoint slides; address concepts better

These were the best takeaways for me.

How was I distracting as a person? How did I get in the way of the material and their understanding of it?

I am going back and forth about posting these here, for anyone to read, but for the sake of confronting my weaknesses, and baring my failures, here they will stay.

In general, they found the intellectual challenge of the course to be overwhelmingly higher/much higher, and that much more was expected of them compared to other courses.
They also said they learned more, and that it was more important to them than the average course.

One final cut came when they said that, though the course was (perfectly symmetrical distribution) 'good' on the whole, 3 out of a 5 pt scale--the effectiveness of the instructor's teaching methods was only 2.66/5 on a 5 pt scale. I was closer to 'good' than 'fair,' but barely. Ouch. Point taken.

The brightest spot in the evaluations for me came in their tremendous support of the devotions I did every Thursday. That made me feel really good, and want to work so much harder on making the rest of the course better.

Class starts again on Tuesday next week. Here's to massive improvement.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

I found RAW

When I first took interest in astrophotography, many folks on forums suggested shooting in RAW. I did for one outing, and never used it for post-processing (which is the whole point), then abandoned it to continue shooting jpeg.

Well, to improve my game, I decided to try and learn about post-processing again. I always viewed it as cheating (for no good reason, just because I didn't understand it), but I know most people who are serious about their photography do it, so it can't be that bad, right?

My friend Lindsay is an amazing wedding photographer (shout out if you're reading this!), and I know she spends a lot of time editing her work, so that inspired me to look into it--maybe I could give my Milky Way photos some pop.

Not every program can handle RAW images, or the Nikon specific NEF format. With that in mind, I started using ViewNX2 from Nikon--free software that came with my D7000. It's not meant for heavy editing, but you have some reasonable capabilities with it. I also followed a couple tutorials that used Lightroom to get started for ideas.

Since most of the images that I'm proud of are in jpeg format, I didn't have much to work with as far as testing goes. I did have one image though. It's one that I'm actually really happy with, that I took on Mackinac Island just after grad school. I've already written about it on the blog here--I love the blue hues and the location even more. I didn't think I'd be able to improve upon it much, but I gave it a try anyway.

Here is the original unedited image:
And after taking some time to edit:
I think the greatest change was in the white balance. I'm not altogether sure if I got it right though. The second image seems truer to life, and the colors pop more (particularly the lichen covered harbor wall). I'll play more, and maybe change my mind...

As happy as I was with the first image, taking a few minutes to tweak the image in ViewNX2 made a huge difference, and I love it.

Even though VNX2 is limited in its capabilities, for my purposes it is great for editing. My "workflow," if you can call it that, is simple and I don't do any batch processing. There may be a time when I'm ready to jump to Lightroom and use Adobe's $9.99/month 'Photography' package, but not yet--not until I learn enough to actually need (want) it.

One concrete result of this experiment is that I'm shooting in both RAW and jpeg from now on--my D7000 has dual slots, so I can have the convenience & compatibility of jpeg and the flexibility & endless possibilities of RAW--I shall have and eat this cake.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Grief repeated

In a matter of months, I lost both of my surviving grandparents.

One of them I thought would live forever--he just seemed to be constructed of vitality and life. The other was a timeless fighter, and she fought to the end before collapsing exhausted into Jesus' arms, ready to see her husband.

In November I grieved for my Grandpa Split, went through the visitation and funeral, and felt a chapter close with that sacred process. It was the same way when my Grandma Split passed away almost three years ago.

This time something is different. To be sure, each side of my family is distinct in Stimmung (mood, disposition), but there is also a level of routine now. I expect that to an extent this is natural--we all grieve more people and more frequently as we age. But I think it's more than that.

It feels too soon. There is almost a mechanical sense to how I'm approaching visitation, the funeral, and even my internal grieving process. I do not like it.

I guess that's ok. There is much in life that's not meant to be liked or disliked.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Love you, Grandma Pohler

Growing up, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Grandma. She was THE baby sitter.

I remember the beautiful old brown toy box in the den with green carpet and all the photo albums. We used to go to her house for Sunday dinners with the whole family when I was little--playing with plastic balls and bats in her yard after lunch. I remember the constant supply of lemon drops in her refrigerator, for you see, Grandma had a sweet tooth.

Since we lived close, Jeff and I spent a lot of time in her yard making exorbitant sums mowing her lawn, picking up sticks and caring for her well-tended flower garden when she couldn't do it herself anymore--$5 was generous!

Grandma raised a family and lived in that house with green canopies and shutters for as long as the block has been there. She was a fixture, and could hardly bear to leave when it became clear that she needed more care--that was her stubbornness.

When I think about who Grandma is as a person though, I don't think about the delicious butterscotch pies she made, or the tomatoes she would eat with sugar, or the myriad gifts she loved to provide her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, or even the way she talked about Grandpa. What comes to mind is how Grandma prayed for and remembered and wrote her family all the time. Even last week, she asked with concern, if I had gotten the card she sent me for my birthday. I don't doubt that we were constantly on her mind.

There was also the way she worried, which I inherited from her in spades. Worry for family. Worry for our well-being, happiness and health. Worry and thought were some of the ways she knew to show love. I know from her eagerness to sit with us and hear about what was new in our lives that each of us had a place in her heart.

I think of that quiet consistency as one of her most salient qualities.

I'm not sure how heaven works. I don't know what she thinks about or how her memory works now--but I'm sure that now her love is free of worry and that it's full for us.