The 2021 career reset (or, when to cast aside the journalism career)

Three funny things are haunting me as 2020 comes to a merciful conclusion …

First, with the most relevant part in bold:

By far the month’s most disturbing event occurs on July 15 when Twitter, responding to a cyberattack, temporarily suspends many verified blue-check accounts. Within minutes emergency rooms in Washington and New York are overwhelmed by media thought leaders whose brains are literally exploding from the pressure of unreleased insights.

Dave Barry, from his year in review

Second, a scene from When Harry Met Sally that I referenced in my remembrance of my dear stepmom, Meg Gunn Dure.

SALLY: The story of my life isn’t even going to get us out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.

HARRY: So something can happen to you?

SALLY: Yes.

HARRY: Like what?

SALLY: Like I’m going to go to journalism school and become a reporter.

HARRY: So you can write about things that happen to other people.

Third, Cowboy Mouth, wrapping up a typical show with a typical rendition of Jenny Says that turns into an exorcism:

Turn that smart phone off, dude. Stop recording life. Start living life.

See the 6:10 mark, but watch the whole thing. You’re on vacation, and it’s a great way to kick 2020’s ass out the door.

Make it four: I just read the autobiography of Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and I marveled at all the accounts of time spent with friends.

This post was going to be an elegy for my journalism career, highlighted by the lack of pay. I started in 1991, making $10 an hour, nearly $20 in 2020 money, which wasn’t bad for someone paying about $400/month in rent with no student debt and no car payments. By the time I left USA TODAY in 2010, I was making nearly $60,000. Had I stayed and not been laid off, I’d be making maybe $75,000 now.

Instead, I’ve written six books. I’ve lost money on four of them. On the others, the amount of money I’ve made works out to maybe $2/hour. I’ve had a book signing to which one person showed up, and I wrote a short book that one person has read. (And not purchased, though I did make about 17 cents through Kindle Unlimited.)

Plenty of people say they’ve read my books. Plenty of people told Wilt Chamberlain they were in Madison Square Garden the night he scored 100 points, which would be impressive if that game hadn’t taken place in Hershey, Pa. 

I did take a steady freelance gig a year or two ago that was technically part-time employment, and I was making …

Ten bucks an hour.

Then I was basically laid off.

But this career was never about the money. I’ve known that all along. When I went to a job interview the summer after graduation, the managing editor and editor of the papers in Wilmington, N.C., asked why I wanted to go into journalism, and I started by saying, “Well, it’s not the money.” They laughed and hired me.

Of the two short books I’ve cranked out this year, one was mere self-indulgence, scraping together remnants of my long-abandoned MMA book into a memoir intertwined with MMA history that the fans already know. The other was a neat little history project that I started while quarantining after contracting COVID-19.

The money these days isn’t in writing, anyway. It’s at YouTube. Seriously.

Sure, not everyone pulls in the eight-figure annual windfall of the top 10, but six figures are pretty common. I ran the numbers on some of the people I watch and found this:

  • Music critic: $641 per video on YouTube, $6,922 per video on Patreon. Figure about 20 videos per year, and that’s $150k. He also has a podcast.
  • Music producer/analyst: $840 per video on YouTube. He does about 80 videos a year, so that’s $67,200, though he says some of them are “demonitized” because YouTube enforces the music industry’s ass-backwards approach to “fair use” and takes away his money for using, say, a seven-second snippet of music. He makes more of his money on books, anyway.
  • Australian comedian: $5,500 per video, about 90 this year, so … holy crap, $495,000??!!!
  • Canadian comedian: $32,490 on one video. Close to $14,000 on another. More typically around $1,500, with about 80 videos a year. She had a very good year. She’s also getting sponsorships. Safe to say she’s over $150,000 for the year, though she recognizes this year was a bit of a blip because she had a fantastic idea and ran with it.

Part 1 (17 million views) is highly recommended, and the rest of the series is pretty good.

For sake of comparison, let’s look at blogging, where I thought in 2010 that I might make a bit of money on the side: 

  • WordPress WordAds: I get about 40 cents per 1,000 ad impressions. That means my top post at Ranting Soccer Dad got about $5. When I had my medal projections at my old blog, I could make $100 for a couple hundred hours of work. 
  • Medium: If you can figure out a pattern let me know. I got $1.09 on a post with 19 views and an average reading time of 2:39. I got $2.38 on a post with 1,400 views and an average reading time of 4:23. I know people can make money on Medium, and I’m hoping to turn X-temporaneous into a publication of some import, but I need writers to do that. (Hint hint.)

You get the picture. There’s no money in blogging on my own. The only way to make money as a freelancer is to keep hustling after any assignment you can find.

Don’t send money. Well, not a lot. You can always donate if you’re a fan of the tons of work I’ve done on the Club and League directories. But we’re not the type of people who blow our salaries and inheritances on $3 million houses, so we’re fine.

Let’s be clear — these have been my choices. I turned down a decent job with USA TODAY’s magazines. When I told the magazine department boss how much I made with USA TODAY proper, he assured me he was offering significantly more. After he finished laughing.

I’ve only applied for one full-time job that was a perfect fit for my experience — in fact, I knew I was better qualified than anyone they were going to get, and yet I knew I wasn’t going to get an interview because I wasn’t in the right clique and because the people doing the hiring are “woke” to the point of absurdity and also ageist. Jobs for “writer/editor” exist, but I haven’t been applying for them.

For the last decade, I’ve basically been a stay-at-home dad who writes.

That ends in 2021. 

I’ve planned for a while to start a consulting business. That’ll be launched in earnest in January at the virtual United Soccer Coaches convention. 

The other job is something I didn’t plan. In an effort to re-open schools after 10 months away, Fairfax County is hiring classroom monitors — people who can spend more time in proximity to students than teachers who have vulnerability that COVID-19 could exploit. I’ve already had COVID, and I’m confident in the schools’ safety efforts, so I applied. And was hired. 

So whenever schools finally open, I’ll be working in a physical non-home location for the first time since 2010.

That job will likely only last until June, when this school year ends and we wash our hands (literally) of the COVID academic year. By fall, we’d better have this thing under control. 

It’s also a good time to reset. 

But when I wrote the original draft of this post, I realized I wasn’t really planning to give anything up.

  • Writing for Soccer America? Nope, I’ll keep doing that.
  • Writing for The Guardian? I hope to do more of that.
  • Writing and recruiting for X-temporaneous? I might do less, but I’m not pressing “delete” on it.

With the latter, I’ve been taking cautious steps toward “news” journalism, in which I haven’t fared badly in previous forays. NPR picked up some my work on Millennials and small towns at OZY. A piece on Flat Earthers a few years ago did very well for The Guardian.

And yet there’s still “respectable” journalism to be done in sports. At the risk of seeming arrogant, I’m doing work other people can’t or won’t do because they’re afraid of biting hands that feed them or aren’t well-equipped to write about duplicity and scandal. Each year at the coaches’ convention, people always tell me how much they appreciate my work. It’s a shame that’ll be all-virtual this year, but I hear from people all the time, anyway.

So I’m not giving up any of these things. I’m also adding a consulting business. And a job. And I’m doing a big project for The Chronicle.

Then my goal is to have more “me” time.

That’s not really how time works, is it?

Perhaps, but a couple of things will be off the table.

First, no more books. Not this year. I’ve done a rough draft of a 24-page book to go with my consulting business, but that’s about it.

Second, significantly less time cataloging the decline of American democracy.

Go back to the first quote here from Dave Barry: “the pressure of unreleased insights.”

I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking it’s somehow my duty to share everything of importance that I read— maybe on Twitter, maybe on Facebook, maybe after cataloging everything in Diigo and writing blog posts that most undergrads would call “research papers.”

For what?

If I helped rally voters for the election, great. But I can’t pretend I have some sort of great influence on every topic.

I still won’t stop. I’ll still do the occasional Gen X-related post at X-temporaneous. I’ll occasionally round up a few things here at Mostly Modern Media. You’ll still see links on creativity at Before The Apocalypse, and I might turn all that into a book sometime in the future. I’ve just redesigned this blog to include widgets for my latest tweets and the latest links I’ve saved. At some point before I die, I want to take everything I’ve learned writing books, going to grad school and researching creativity to put together something of substance.

It’s just going to be a question of priority.

The laptop will be shut off at times. I’ll read more. I’ll figure out what I can do in the yard without triggering allergies or tearing my hair out. I’ll spend most time in the music room. When curling resumes, I’ll be making that trip around the Beltway more often. I might even get on the exercise bike every now and then. If that means fewer posts reminding people what fascist douchebags Donald Trump and his sycophants are, so be it.

So my new priorities will cut into my time recording life. They’ll add to my time living it.

Happy New Year.

Things I used to be good at: Timpani

I have no idea why my percussion teacher had such faith in a relative beginner at Duke, but I wound up playing Elliott Carter’s March at my senior recital after only two years of instruction.

I did not, however, play it as fast as this guy, who’s impressive but omits the fun switches from the heads to the butt end.

This guy uses each end of the stick, and he gives some commentary to explain how he goes about it.

He must have an unlimited budget, because he talks about experimenting with his sound in a concert hall. At Duke, we had three timpani in the rehearsal hall and three in the concert hall, and we had to take the big one back and forth on a grassy slope.

He made his own timpani mutes. So did I, in a sense. I used socks.

Also, when I turned up on recital day, I found all my stuff had been moved from the stage because the jazz guys had set up for a concert at night. Glad I got there early enough to switch it.

The piece uses rhythmic modulation, a complicated concept that would make Rush, Yes and the math-rockers that followed King Crimson break out a calculator. The idea is this — play for a while in a particular tempo, then play something that hints at a change, and then change the tempo so that, for example, a dotted quarter note in one measure is as long as a quarter note in the next.

This video takes you through the score so you have a visual. The piece starts at 105 beats per minute (unless you’re playing at light speed like the guy in the first video) and modulates at the 30-second mark (dotted quarter becomes quarter) to 140 bpm. At the 55-second mark, it gets freaky — the eighth notes in a 10/8 measure become quintuplets in a 2/2 measure. Then you have some measures in 14/16 before the dotted dotted quarter has the same value as a half note.

Of course, the performer can take liberties with all this. My teacher encouraged me to pause for a bit on the quarter note after the monster section (2:05 mark) to emphasize the change in mood.

Generally, such experiments lead to some unlistenable music. Even in March, the listener isn’t aware of all these tricks. I nailed this piece when I performed it, and the audience didn’t know the difference. One person who came out to listen said, “You played, and then when you put your sticks together, we clapped.”

But rock musicians sometimes sense a challenge to make things as complicated as this is. And that’s why you have Dream Theater, a band that’s more fun to analyze than it is to hear.

Count ’em — 108 time signatures (well, some time signatures are repeated, so it might be more accurate to say 107 time changes):

One way to see Ireland …

(Allow time for this to load. Lots of photos.)

About 6.5 million people live in Ireland and Northern Ireland combined. Roughly 10 million have left since 1800, the University of Cork’s emigration site tells us.

After visiting for the second time, I have a question: Why did they ever leave?

OK, yes, Ireland has had waves of dire economic situations, some of it (potato famine) England’s fault. But today, I’m sorely tempted to go the other direction and stay.

Conor Pass, Dingle peninsula

Of course, we can’t extrapolate too much from visits. Going to a charming little town like Ballyferriter is fun. Not sure I’d want to live there. The fun parts of Dublin seemed to have more tourists than residents.

When we visit anywhere in Europe, it’s neat to see all the different products — arrays of sweets that don’t exist in the USA (I was happy to find one of those tooth-ruining toffees that require a hammer or solid whack to separate the pieces), a sublime Fanta orange that in no way resembles the swill sold here — but would a longer stay expose things we love in the USA that aren’t available over there? Is microwave popcorn readily available? Could I find decent pizza?

But I can say this with confidence: It’s a wonderful place to visit.

We went for the first time in 1999. Nearly 20 years (and two kids) later, we went back.

Here’s how we did it this time — feel free to click through to my Google reviews:

Saturday: We took a taxi from the airport to the Ashling Hotel, dropped off our bags and started walking. That’s what you do when you visit a city, particularly in Europe. I saw 1-2 Google reviews complaining that the Ashling isn’t close to anything, to which I’d offer three responses:

img_4726
Seriously, dude — it’s across the street!
  1. Did you not check the map before you booked the room?
  2. Did you not see the restaurants within an easy walk?
  3. Are you incapable of making the 20-minute walk to tons of restaurants, shops and tourist attractions? Or locating a bus?

If you’re visiting any city and not signing up for a tour bus to take you around, you’re going to walk. You may also take public transportation, though we didn’t on this day. We walked down to the wonderful Wuff for lunch, toured the Guinness storehouse (brewery) and had dinner at Harkin’s Pub near the brewery.

Funny thing about Guinness: By the time we got to the tasting, I was reminded that I’m not really a fan of Ireland’s treasured beer. They promised the best Guinness we’ve ever tasted because it’s right there at the brewery, but I thought it accentuated the bitterness that comes from roasting the barley (as we found in the compelling exhibits) to such extreme heat. For the rest of the trip, I had various forms of Smithwick’s, which is under the same corporate umbrella as Guinness, and one local beer I’ll get to.

And the neighborhood around it is disappointing. Parts of it are in disrepair. But Harkin’s isn’t bad at all.

It was windy. Powerfully windy. A bit of rain dripped, but if I’d tried to use an umbrella, I think it would’ve wound up in the Atlantic.

Sunday: How do people sleep on planes without being in first class? I didn’t. This was my seventh overnight flight to Europe and eighth long-haul overall, and I’ve never slept more than an hour.

So we slept for a long time Saturday night/Sunday morning. Then it was time for brunch at Urbanity, probably the most hipster-ish place in Dublin but in a good way.

We didn’t want to flush a lot of cash away on what’s already an expensive trip, but we did some browsing at a comprehensive shop called Toy Master, complete with animatronic dinosaurs. I stopped by Intersport Elverys to see if they had interesting soccer jerseys, particularly one for the team we were scheduled to see on Friday (Bohemians), but they did not. If you like Irish football, the game in which Irishmen attack each other violently to keep opponents from kicking a large ball into or over a goal, or hurling, the game in which Irishmen attack each other violently to keep opponents from whacking a small ball into or over a goal, this is your place.

One of us had to pick up a rental car at the airport for our travels later in the week. It wasn’t me, so the rest of us had lunch at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, which is basically Shake Shack transplanted to the Temple Bar area but with better fries/chips.

After going back to the hotel, we took a brief walk down the street to Ryan’s Pub. That’s known mostly as a steakhouse or a watering hole, and we were interested in neither, but it was fine.

By this point, we felt that we knew the neighborhood. Naturally, we decided to shake it up the next day.

Monday: Did I mention that we loved the little restaurant called Wuff? We loved it so much that we ran over to be at the front door before they opened at 8 a.m. We had to wait at lunch on Saturday, and we wanted to get there and get moving. Turns out no one goes there right when it opens.

Skipping the tram and bus in favor of walking was a good call. Dublin has buses running like hundreds of mice on speed, as well as a frequent tram, but they were still packed in and nearly crushed at the door. You’d think some of them would bail and get the crepe pancakes at Wuff, but evidently getting to work on time is important.

The reason we got the car was that we were going beyond Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway, a wonder of nature with tons of rocks, many of them in neat honeycombs, that The Simpsons satirized with Marge and the kids playing a life-size various of the old Qbert video game.

I had picked up a neat hat at one of the touristy stores in Dublin. Here, I stuffed it into my pocket because of …

The Wind. (Not the wonderful album Warren Zevon released as he was dying, but the actual physical force.)

I’ve been outside during a nor’easter that had hurricane-force gusts. This was much more intense. When we hiked up the steep path to the top of the cliff, I urged everyone else to stay several feet away from the edge, lest I end up fishing a relative out of the ocean.

The scenery was stunning, and we had fun hopping around on all the rocks, but we had trouble finding a good place to eat. The cafe at the visitors’ center, which included a screen showing the Simpsons clip, had a prohibitive line. A nearby restaurant had no seats and smelled funny. We decided to pile back in the car and head south.

It’s really not a long drive from Dublin all the way up to the northern shore of the island. It’s 163 miles, less than three hours if traffic is OK. But it includes an hour or so of local roads with scant services, which was disappointing for a hungry group of people who really should’ve braved the line at the visitors’ center.

“What about the border crossing?” you might ask. Yes, we drove from one country to another. You can tell when you’re in Northern Ireland because there’s a well-weathered sign, less prominent than any sign informing you that’s 80 kilometers to an upcoming town, that says you’re in Northern Ireland. That’s followed by a sign alerting you that the speed limits will be posted in miles per hour rather than kilometers. The return to Ireland from the UK doesn’t even have a “Welcome to Ireland” sign at all. A couple hundred yards past the border (we think), there’s a sign telling you the signs will henceforth be in kilometers. Then a small sign welcoming you to County Louth.

Everything around that thrilling transition is pasture. Sheep may safely graze in either Ireland or Britain, and no one would know the difference.

So if the nationalist propaganda (read: lies and idiocy) in London can’t be undone and Brexit goes through, good luck enforcing that border.

We did finally get a small lunch along the way, and then we ate a quick dinner in the hotel bar when we got back.

Tuesday: The 100-item breakfast buffet at the hotel was expensive, but we couldn’t pass it up another day, especially with a long-ish and occasionally challenging drive ahead. We were on our way to Dingle.

We spent some of that time exploring our radio options. Some of them aren’t bad, but the shocking part is the lack of variety. RTE 1 is mostly talk. RTE 2 is mostly crap — current Top 40 stuff. RTE also runs a classical channel (Lyric FM) and a Gaelic channel (Radio na Gaelna … Gaelnita … R na G). Those are available nationwide on various frequencies, and our intelligent car (a Skoda) shifted from frequency to frequency without us noticing. We just saw names.

Other than that, there’s a mostly nationwide pop channel (Today FM), a nationwide Christian channel (Spirit Radio), a nationwide channel called Classic Hits that caters to the “above 45” demographic (which I’m in), and a bunch of regional stations. In theory, many of those stations have different formats, and in Dublin, the “Sunshine” station is more soft rock while the “Nova” station plays music that occasionally turns up the guitar. But really, it all runs together. The “presenters,” not the music, are the main distinguishing feature, and I travel with someone who doesn’t listen to people talking.

What I’m saying here is that it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one Cranberries song appeared on every radio station in Ireland in the past 24 hours, with the exceptions of “Newstalk” and Lyric FM. I even heard them on R na G, with the late Dolores O’Riordan singing beautifully in Ireland’s native tongue.

Ireland has several convenient rest stops, akin to Chesapeake House and other stops along I-95, on its motorways. Most of them, like the radio stations, are indistinguishable from each other, run with warm tidiness by a chain called Applegreen’s and feature decent convenience-store fare along with a Subway, Burger King and a couple of Irish alternatives.

The exception to the homogeneity of these rest stops is Barack Obama Plaza. Yes, Obama. The last half-decent president the USA might end up having has ancestry around the village of Moneygall, and he visited once. That visit is enshrined here in pictures of Barack and Michelle smiling as they tread on Irish ground. There’s even a large photo of the president’s helicopter as it prepares to land.

And the Obama Plaza has gas and a bunch of places to grab food — perhaps not exactly the same chains as the Applegreen’s stops but roughly comparable.

As you close in on the Dingle peninsula, the roads become more challenging. The biggest adjustment to driving on the left is knowing where the left side of your car really is. It’s tempting to hug the shoulder. When you leave the motorway, the highway and the regional road to embark on the local road, that shoulder is replaced by shrubbery and the occasional stone wall. And there ain’t a lot of room in that lane.

The tourist trap, er, town of Dingle rather intelligently features parking lots on its perimeter to encourage pedestrian traffic. We were racing to Murphy’s Ice Cream, which would’ve been fine if we’d stumbled into it but didn’t live up to the hype. I was also a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tourists.

That wasn’t an issue in Ballyferriter. The town center consists of a church, a museum, the Ceann Sibeal hotel (westernmost hotel in Europe), and three pubs, not counting the restaurant and bar in the hotel. We wound a couple of the pubs, to borrow the Monty Python, uncontaminated by food. We settled for Murphy’s, and by a stroke of luck, it was awesome. We wound up going back the next night, in part because the hotel restaurant was inexplicably closed.

Wednesday: We had a nice breakfast in the hotel and then headed off on our drive. Slea Head Drive is one of the most beautiful ways to invite a fender-bender that you’ll find anywhere on Earth. We visited Rahinnane Castle, which entailed driving up to a house and inquiring at someone’s patio. She asks you for two Euros per person and to close any gates that need opening on your way through the pastures where sheep may safely poop. Never have I watched my step so intently.

The Last Jedi used a couple of sites in the area as well as Skellig Michael, the island off the neighboring peninsula of Kerry that’s allegedly visible from a spot on our drive on a clear day. At some point, I did an arduous hike that Rey might have done. Generally, though, words can’t do this peninsula justice. The photos can barely get there.

We were scrounging for food back in Ballyferriter, and we found that the little convenience store. Siopa an Bhuailtain, has everything we could possibly need, plus a couple of tables. It was great until the tour group of kids showed up and overwhelmed the place.

But we can’t spend all afternoon at a convenience store, so we went back to Dingle. I liked it a bit better this time, in part because we relaxed at the amiable Bean in Dingle coffeehouse to enjoy the wi-fi that had been kind of elusive at the hotel. We also browsed a neat bookstore.

Still, we wanted to have dinner back in Ballyferriter. First, we’d have a quick stop at Kane’s (aka Tigh Ui Chathain), which had no food the day before but had a playful dog named Lucy. We decided to go back, where they told us Lucy usually stops in. Right on cue, she popped in and played with us, digging out a tennis ball from behind the bar.

We were planning to eat at the hotel, but when we realized they weren’t serving food that night, we went back to Murphy’s.

Thursday: Somehow, another big group of teens turned up at the convenience store as we were getting breakfast for the road.

Instead of going straight back to Dublin, we went back to Glendalough, a beautiful place south of Dublin in Wicklow County, where the roads are truly frightening.

“Hey, look at the beautiful view.”

“I am NOT taking my eyes off this road.”

Fifteen centuries ago, Glendalough was the home of St. Kevin, a remarkable figure who took asceticism to new levels. He lived as a hermit, rolled around naked on nettles to atone for … the fact that a woman tried to seduce him? I recall he also walked naked into the chilly water of the lakes. Eventually, some people convinced him that maybe he should open a monastery or something.

We returned to Dublin but went to a different hotel, this one right by the airport. In the same area, there’s a big restaurant called Kealy’s, which lived up to its glowing Google reviews.

Speaking of atonement: The Crowne Plaza staff informed us when we arrived that they had messed up our room reservation. Instead, they gave us TWO adjoining rooms with a door between them. It was awesome.

Friday: The hotel breakfast looked great, but I wasn’t feeling too well (maybe too much indulgence on the rest of the trip — I gained back one of the 30 pounds I’ve lost in the last 15 months). Then we took a bus into Dublin for more browsing. One of us spent entirely too much time at Gamer’s World. I browsed Eason’s bookstore and bought a Trinity College shirt to pay homage to what we were going to do in the afternoon.

Remember Tower Records? If you’re under 35, you probably don’t. If you’re under 25, let me explain — before you could download any song you want onto your phone, there were these things called “record stores.” Our beloved Tower in Tysons Corner had gone out of business long ago, and we were surprised to see one in Dublin. We figured it would be a sad experience, with a few holdouts browsing used CDs.

Our prediction couldn’t have been further from the truth. Tower Records is capitalizing on the hipsters’ “back to vinyl” movement and also sells plenty of gear to listen to music at home, but it also has a gigantic selection of T-shirts and other band merchandise. We could’ve spent hours in there, but we also want to go to a famed coffee/tea/pastry place called Bewley’s, which was also much bigger and offered a wider variety of goods than we expected.

Then it was off to Trinity College for a nice walk around campus before seeing the Book of Kells. The campus is fascinating, with ancient buildings in one quad and then newer construction around it. They also have a big rugby pitch and cricket field in the middle of campus, so don’t let anyone tell you college sports are just an American thing. The Book of Kells tour itself was fun and surprisingly witty, even though it was tough to get much out of seeing the Book itself.

Dinner was at J.W. Sweetman’s, yet another place with more square footage than you’d expect in a city location. It’s also a brewery, and I enjoyed their Weiss.

Then the worst part of the trip — sadly, the only part I planned. We went to a soccer game at Dalymount Park, home of Bohemians FC. Parts of the ground are charming, but much of it is derelict. UPDATE: I’m wrote a Soccer America story about that experience.

Also, the Dublin Bus site is useless, and it’s bloody impossible to figure out the best route from place to place if you have to transfer buses. We figured something out and made it back to the hotel to our great relief, just before another short sleep.

Saturday: The Crowne Plaza’s airport shuttle is nice and efficient. Heathrow, where we connected to get home, is not.

And I, for one, really didn’t want to come home. But we’ll go back someday. Maybe with more suitcases.

My college courses, if I could do it all over

Duke was a great experience for me … apart from the classes.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. I had some great teachers, but I had a lot of lousy ones. The academic advising wasn’t great except within the music department, from which I think I could have had many recommendations for grad school had I gone in that direction.

And it’s unfair to look back with regret in comparison to what Duke offers today. Duke now has minors or certificates that I don’t believe they offered in the past.

So the modern-day Duke experience is surely better for all. I hope the teachers are better. I know the course selection is better.

Let’s break down what I took …

WHAT I TOOK

Philosophy major

One note here: I only took two of the required eight classes by the end of sophomore year, when you’re supposed to declare. At the time, everything seemed fine. The classes were fine, and I had couple of solid B-pluses that I figured I’d pull up to As down the road. If I’d taken a third (not counting logic), maybe I would’ve realized this wasn’t for me.

  • Intro to Philosophy: required, and I had a good grad-student teacher
  • History of Ancient Philosophy: required, another good teacher (Michael Ferejohn)
  • Logic – required, easy A, took it in the summer with the late, great Rick Roderick, called “the Bill Hicks of philosophy”
  • History of Modern Philosophy – required, difficult. I made a C. Again, if I’d taken it sophomore year, maybe I wouldn’t have majored in this
  • History of Law – I fancied myself pre-law. This class, with a pipe-smoking drone teaching, may have talked me out of it. Had a solid B before I screwed up the final because I was desperately studying for the final in …
  • Symbolic Logic – This was a ****ing math class. A bunch of math majors were taking it to meet their humanities requirement. I sat there on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, not comprehending in the least what was being written on the board and not able to ask afterwards because I had a Chronicle budget meeting. Frankly, that was a better priority. No one in journalism cares that I made a C-plus in this class and probably should’ve done worse.
  • Philosophy of Music – Very cool class with another late, great professor in Ben Ward, whom I had met in my freshman dorm, where he lived as an Artist in Residence and frequently played his grand piano. I did a terrific final project on cassette, using audio clips to illustrate my points. One of two classes I took in my last semester while I was pulling about 50 hours a week at The Chronicle.
  • Plato – a 200-level class was required, and this was hard-core. I’d registered for a class on Hegel with Rick Roderick, but he had to change the time and day of the class, and I couldn’t make it. I quickly scrambled over to Dr. Ferejohn’s office. He said he remembered me from History of Ancient Philosophy (he probably didn’t) and would gladly sign off on my switch to this class. I’ll always be proud of the fact that I got an A-minus in a class that required serious scholarship in a seminar with a bunch of grad students.

Music major

  • Fundamentals of Music Theory: I hadn’t planned to be a music major, but I took this on a whim in my first semester and didn’t flinch when I discovered it had a lab component and didn’t give credit for it, unlike those wimps in science classes who get an extra credit for being lab. Rodney Wynkoop and my classmates encouraged me to keep going. I was hooked.
  • Tonal Harmony: Basically the second semester of theory, another class with Rodney, another solid A.
  • Modal Counterpoint: Considered the organic chemistry of the music major, with complex math involved. Started to sour on things here.
  • Tonal Counterpoint: Still difficult, but I liked this better and did better.
  • Composition: Took concurrently with Tonal Counterpoint. A two-person class — me and Joe Zellnik. Joe is a brilliant composer to this day. I’m not. Enjoyed it and learned a lot, but I realized my limitations.
  • Percussion (three semesters): Music majors have to study an instrument, and I enjoyed this quite a bit. Still playing drums to this day. Can’t store a tympani set at home, unfortunately.
  • Chamber Music (percussion ensemble): Thanks to the people who formed a percussion ensemble with me. This was fun.
  • Four freaking semesters of Music History: You don’t even get to Bach for a few months. Oddly enough, my lowest grade (B+) was in Music History III, which covered my favorite era of classical music. I think. I never listen to classical any more, and no, Music History IV didn’t cover the Beatles. 

Requirements

  • University Writing Course: Salem Witchcraft: I will one day sarcastically dedicate a book to the grad student who gave me inconsistent instructions and gave me a C-minus. I didn’t choose the topic, but I found it interesting. I also apparently contradicted the grad student’s thesis. I like to think I was right. 
  • History of Civilization: Intro to Art History: a backup choice in my first semester, and it couldn’t have gone worse. I took this after a PE class, so I raced from the PE buildings to the West Campus bus stop and immediately went into a dark room to look at slides. Along with the UWC above, I had really bad grades in my first semester and spent the rest of my time at Duke climbing into the middle of my class.
  • Empirical Natural Science: Astronomy – not bad, not exactly Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Foreign language requirement: Met with my achievement test in French, even though I couldn’t speak it to save my life.
  • LiteratureAP credit FTW, which is good, because I might have lost my mind in a Duke English class.

“Division II”

Not really sure what the “divisions” entailed, but we had to pick one in which we took four classes, one of them at the 100 level (at the time, slightly advanced — 200-level classes were for a mix of seniors and grad students). All I know is that I took a lot of history.

  • Two semesters of American history: AP credit FTW
  • Germany: 30 Years’ War-1871: Great professor in Claudia Koonz, who’s actually kind of controversial (I didn’t know Historikerinnenstreit was a word). The subject matter was kind of dull, but I learned how to do longer papers, which helped down the road.
  • Socialism and Communism: Blow-off summer class with Warren Lerner, who literally wrote the book on the subject. Not bad, and I don’t know why I only got a B-plus.

“Division III” 

I guess I needed two classes in another area of concentration, so I chose math and science-ish?

  • Calculus I: AP credit FTW
  • Calculus II: Grad student who struggled with English and didn’t get through all the material. This is on Duke. They should’ve done better. I actually didn’t need to take this. And I shouldn’t have. There’s no need to take second-semester calculus unless you’re going into engineering or something similar. See below.
  • Fundamentals of Computer Science: I didn’t think it was supposed to be an easy course, but when I saw a bunch of football and basketball players, I figured it might be pretty simple. It was indeed very easy, though we AGAIN didn’t get extra credit for the lab, but I learned quite a bit.

Electives

  • Three semesters of PE – Badminton/Racquetball/Squash, Endurance Swimming, Racquetball: Two of these were for fun. The third was gaming the system. You can’t apply more than two PE classes to your total number of credits for graduation, but I was way ahead on credits, anyway. The problem was that I wasn’t allowed to take an underload, and percussion was only a half-credit. So I took the third semester to give myself a full load, even though it didn’t count toward graduation. Loved the racquet sports. Hated swimming in a freezing pool.
  • Comedy: Theory & Performance – One of the freshman seminars offered second semester, and I was lucky to get my first choice. I ditched what the writing instructor had tried to teach me and went back to my old writing style. A LOT of reading dating back to Aristophanes, but I didn’t mind at all. The A-minus restored my faith in my writing ability. 
  • Advanced Intermediate French: I did OK, but I STILL can’t speak French.
  • Chemistry and Society: People joke about this, ranking it alongside “Physics for Poets.” Yeah, it was easy. So what? I learned more from this than I would’ve learned in a lab, suckers.
  • American Political System: Figured I needed another pre-law-ish class. Lecturer was pretty good, as was the TA who taught my breakout group. 
  • Introductory Psychology: Awesome, and not just because it was an easy A. Wonderful class to take in a breezy summer term.
  • Organismal/Environmental Biology: My dad was a biochemist, so maybe YOU were wrong on that test, grad students. 

So what did I like or find worthwhile?

  • Philosophy: Intro, Logic, 200-level
  • Music: Theory (2 semesters), Percussion, Composition
  • Science-ish: Computer Science, Psychology, Chemistry and Society
  • Humanities: Comedy

That’s it? Roughly 11 classes, adding together a couple of half-classes of percussion?

Yikes. Let’s try again …


WHAT I WOULD TAKE TODAY

I wouldn’t major in philosophy. I wouldn’t major in music, but the music minor (not available in those days, and yes, I love the fact that music has major and minor) appeals to me. I almost completed what you’d call a history minor today, but I don’t think I’d do that, either. (I loved my grad-school history classes, though.)

There’s no journalism major, nor would I take one. I could get a journalism certificate, which means I’d have a major, a minor (music) and a certificate. A major has at least 10 courses (12 plus an internship in Public Policy), a minor has at least five, and the journalism certificate has six. Yikes.

But it would make more sense for me to major in public policy, which offers a “policy journalism” concentration. (Or, as the Public Policy department calls it because they just have to be different, a pathway.) That would give me the flexibility to take journalism as far as I could and then bail into something useful like law. Besides, the certificate would require me to take “News as a Moral Battleground,” which doesn’t seem fun.

You can only apply two AP courses toward the 34 needed to graduate, though AP courses can knock out specific requirements. That’s four per semester, but I may do some extra stuff to give myself a chance to take an underload junior year to be Chronicle editor. Or managing editor — Matt probably would’ve been editor, as he was in real life.

Miscellaneous requirements: There’s overlap between the “Areas of Knowledge” (must meet five) and the “Modes of Inquiry” (six) — the same class can count for both. I’ll list the Areas and note which Modes are met along the way. I’d also need one seminar class freshman year (no problem), two more “small group learning experiences.”

The “Modes” are: Cross-Cultural Inquiry, Ethical Inquiry, Science/Technology/Society, Foreign Language, Research, Writing. All require two classes except Foreign Language (see below) and Writing (two in addition to the dreaded UWC).

I’m assuming classes for the major and minor count toward the Areas and Modes. If not, I basically wouldn’t have any electives outside the requirements.

Finally, two things I’d really want to do — take a stats course (required in public policy) and do an internship (also required in PPS).

Public policy major, basic requirements (9)

  • Introduction to Policy Analysis
  • Political Analysis for Public Policy: OK, maybe this is getting dull. (Writing mode)
  • Policy Choice as Value Conflict: I can sub in Global Health Ethics but probably wouldn’t (Ethical Inquiry mode)
  • Microeconomic Policy Tools: OR Intermediate Microeconomics I
  • Economics of the Public Sector: Typically taken senior year. Great.
  • Data Analysis and Statistical Inference: OR Probability and Statistical Inference. (Research and STS modes)
  • History: I’d have to choose from the list linked here. I’d lean toward the sports history class.
  • Internship: Apparently, Duke can now pretty much place people in journalism internships. Wasn’t so easy in my day. You have to take all “core” courses (the first five above) before doing this, so this would likely be between junior and senior year.
  • Independent studyAll sorts of possibilities here. In real life, I did a history of objectivity in American journalism in grad school.

Public policy electives / Policy Journalism pathway (4)

Four electives required for the major, all above 160 level, one at 400 level or higher. The pathway requirements aren’t really clear. I think this list is just suggestions. Hope so, because I’d really want to take the first three listed here, and none is 400 level. Bear in mind that my independent study would probably be journalism-related.

Some of my other electives farther below (Oral History, Data Visualization) would be journalism-related.

  • News Writing & Reporting: I’ve never considered myself a good reporter. Writer, yes. Gleaning info from data, yes. Reporter, no. This would help. I hope. (Research and Writing modes)
  • Journalism in the Age of Data: Gotta learn data. (STS mode)
  • The Art of the Interview: Cross-listed with Documentary Studies. 
  • Environmental Politics: Meets the 400+ requirement.

Music minor (6, including one from a set of electives and two above 213-level)

  • Theory and Practice of Tonal Music I: Required; basically my freshman theory course.
  • Music History III (Beethoven through WWI): Yes! Only ONE of these is required! (CCI and Research mode!)
  • Percussion (two semesters, each 0.5 credits): Fills performance requirement.
  • History of Rock: My choice from the set of electives. 
  • Writing about Music: Everything is journalism. Above 213-level. (Writing mode)
  • Theory and Practice of Tonal Music II: Sure, why not. Above 213-level
  • Could also take Wind Symphony and/or Marching Band for credit just to nickel-and-dime my way to a full class load.

General requirements (3)

  • University Writing Course: As long as I have permission to change teachers
  • Intermediate French Language and Culture: My achievement test (SAT II) score and AP score put me here. To meet the Foreign Language mode, you have to take three classes OR a 300-level course. (Duke has renumbered everything so that 100-levels are intros.) This is 200-level, so …
  • French for Current Affairs: Also meets seminar requirement and CCI mode.

That’s already 22 classes. For the Areas below, the number of parentheses is the number of credits I’ll get outside my major and minor. For example, I knock out Area 1 with my music minor, but I’ll also have an AP credit.

Area of Knowledge 1: Arts, Literature and Performance (1 non-major class)

  • English literature: AP all the way
  • (Music): Yeah, it’s covered.

Area of Knowledge 2: Civilizations (2)

  • American history: I could theoretically use both AP credits to take care of this. But I’d like to take another history, anyway.
  • Introduction to Oral History: Loved my oral history class in grad school. Would also meet my freshman seminar requirement IF I got into it first semester because it’s fall-only. (Research mode, seminar)

Area of Knowledge 3: Natural Sciences (2)

  • Chemistry, Technology and Society: It still exists! (STS mode)
  • Intro to Psychology: I can meet the Natural Sciences requirement with this? Oh, hell yeah! (STS mode)

Area of Knowledge 4: Quantitative Studies (2)

  • Foundations of Data Science: Computer Science class (STS mode)
  • Data Visualization: Found it on the journalism list.

Area of Knowledge 5: Social Sciences (2)

  • (Most of the Public Policy courses could meet this requirement)
  • Fantasy, Mass Media, and Popular Culture: Cultural Anthropology, cross-listed elsewhere, not always offered. Could also meet Civilization requirement, but I’ve got that covered (CCI mode)
  • Gateway Seminar – How to Do History: History department. (Ethical Inquiry and Research mode, seminar)

That’s 31 courses. I could only apply two of the three AP credits (calculus, English, American history) toward that total, so make it 30.

Four more …

Electives: 

  • Everything Data: 200-level computer science course; might be tough without a 200-level math. Could meet Qualitative requirement
  • Ethics and Philosophy of Sport: 300-level! (Ethical Inquiry and Writing modes)
  • Introduction to Philosophy: Could meet Civilizations requirement. (Writing mode)
  • PE: Can count two classes, each a half-credit. I’m thinking Tai Chi and tennis. They don’t do racquetball any more! 

So not much problem covering the Areas. Music and Public Policy knock out two of them, most history classes would take care of Civilizations, my two Natural Science classes are two that I actually took and enjoyed, and I’d take a couple of data-related courses to take care of Qualitative. I wouldn’t mind taking one more Arts course if they won’t let me count my music classes there.

Let’s make sure I’ve taken care of the Modes:

  • Cross-Cultural Inquiry: Music History III, French for Current Affairs, Fantasy/Mass Media/Pop Culture. Wow, little margin for error.
  • Ethical Inquiry: How to Do History, Ethics/Philosophy of Sports. Only two? Good think I’m taking the sports one!
  • Science/Technology/Society: All data and Natural Science classes. Easy.
  • Foreign Language: See above.
  • Research: I count five.
  • Writing: Too many to count.

So I’d consider that an improvement, though I’m a little iffy on some of those Public Policy classes.

 

 

 

 

 

Unraveling the Confederate flag

Our town has a pretty big Halloween parade, and it’s an annual tradition to toss blankets and chairs along the parade route to stake a good viewing spot.

Yesterday, I saw this:

stars-barsYes, that’s a Confederate flag blanket on the main street in my town, which is not exactly a Trump hotbed. (It is, though, quite white, and Asian and Hispanic residents far outnumber African-American residents.)

I was shocked, to say the least. I posted it to Facebook and instantly had several volunteers to go toss that thing in the trash.

But I did have to go back and question myself …

I watched The Dukes of Hazzard as a kid, like many kids of the 70s did. I played Dixie on the clarinet — the melody is a pretty good exercise for beginners. In college, my roommate one summer actually had a Confederate flag — he was in a fraternity that occupied part of my dorm building and had “Old South” events. At some point, I wrote a Chronicle column that was essentially a “live and let live” plea that included a paragraph about letting people show the flag for “Southern pride” if they wanted.

So am I being hypocritical?

I’d like to think people can make progress. Exhibit A: Tom Petty, who used to show the Confederate flag at his shows and later renounced it, quite eloquently:

The Confederate flag was the wallpaper of the South when I was a kid growing up in Gainesville, Florida. I always knew it had to do with the Civil War, but the South had adopted it as its logo. I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant.

Some of us on Facebook said the same thing. More Petty:

To this day, I have good feelings for the South in many ways. There’s some wonderful people down there. There are people still affected by what their relatives taught them. It isn’t necessarily racism. They just don’t like Yankees. They don’t like the North. But when they wave that flag, they aren’t stopping to think how it looks to a black person. I blame myself for not doing that. I should have gone around the fence and taken a good look at it. But honestly, it all stemmed from my trying to illustrate a character. I then just let it get out of control as a marketing device for the record. It was dumb and it shouldn’t have happened.

My dad actually had a good way of looking at it. He was an old-school Southern gentleman, also influenced by a life of traveling the world as a prominent biochemist. He believed the flag was not offensive but, if others found it offensive, a gentleman’s good manners would dictate that we shouldn’t fly it. I agreed with that at the time, but I think the next step was to recognize parts of the history that had been, to put it mildly, de-emphasized.

Only as an adult did I learn that a lot of Confederate flag-waving and monument-building took place in the 20th century, not the 19th. And it was done for specific reasons — basically, whenever black people made noise about injustice. Even if you can somehow rationalize the flag as some sort of historical affectation for a “states’ rights” cause without that knowledge, I can’t imagine a decent human being who’d rationalize the flag with that knowledge.

Today, there should be no excuse not to have that knowledge. Tom Petty and I grew up in the South before people talked about such things in public forums. In the Internet age, how can anyone not understand what the Confederate flag means today? Again — even if you can somehow rationalize that it’s OK to fly it given what it meant in the 19th century, how can you rationalize it when it is quite clearly a symbol of hate?

(I wonder how many people who objected to a mosque in New York because it was some sort of “triumphalism” see no problem with the dirtbag who flies a giant Confederate flag on I-95 knowing full well it’s going to be seen by thousands of slaves’ descendants every day.)

I did have a quick conversation with my walking companion. See the man in the picture? I have no idea whether the flag blanket was his. But someone walking with me figured it was, based on his pronounced Southern drawl.

And so I had to explain that we shouldn’t stereotype — at all. I’ve known thousands of people with Southern drawls — some of them fulfilling every stereotype Family Guy can toss out, some of them brilliant and progressive.

So we all have a lot of progress to make. I’m not done just because I’m less ignorant about this ugly collection of stars on a cross than I was when I was 14 or 19. And I’m not sure of the best way to encourage whoever laid this hideous blanket on the main street of my town to start making some progress, too.