When I was in college I remember hearing some progressives described as driven by the view that history was going to progress onward and upward to a greater level of perfection. This sort of Hegelian view of history implies that the progress of politics and history will lead, partly through the agency of the state, to a greater level of freedom and development.

I guess personally I pegged most labor unions and organizations of that nature as part of the progressive movement, partly because they try to work with and through government as a means to advance their own ends.

In contrast, the conservative would stereotypically be the stodgy person dragging their feet in an attempt to maintain the status quo.

Rich Karlgaard’s Forbes article about Obama’s second term changes the lens a little bit and makes you wonder if things aren’t flipped from the stereotypes. The progressive movement in their quest to radically change the world and progress to a better future has somehow become politically connected with government unions and others, which according to Karlgaard are actually more interested in preserving the past than trusting that the future will be better.

By some strange twist of fate, the economic conservatives have actually become the optimists. The economic conservative has enough faith in the future and the free market at work that they don’t cling to outdated industries and models when they seem to lose their feasibility. The conservative embraces Karlgaard’s idea of “dynamism” and change as a positive force. For them, the end of one era doesn’t mean the potential end of the world, it makes room for new growth and even more prosperity.

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Because there’s a bit of convergence between the subjects of two of the more interesting posts I’ve read today, I’ll throw both of the links up here to share.

The first, from Mashable is about using e-commerce to save magazines. I think e-commerce in some form should be the savior of publishing. Some magazines have all kinds of profiles of stuff I would buy, and the most frustrating thing is that even the iPad version doesn’t always link to the website where I can buy it. Missed opportunities.

Second is about a publication that wasn’t saved. Sad to see The Daily go, because it was actually a lot of fun and a great app. But a publication like that has to embrace the web, not hide behind paywalls and cling to older publishing models.

Food for thought.

Being an English major is kind of like being an educational entrepreneur. If that comparison’s not immediately obvious, let me explain just a little. When you’re a senior in college and you tell people you’re an English major, they immediately ask what you’re planning to do. The reason they ask, aside from the fact that it’s the polite thing to do, is it isn’t immediately obvious what an English major might do after graduation.

If you tell someone you’re studying Podiatry, they have a pretty good idea what you’re planning to do when you’re done. With an English major it isn’t so obvious. Aside from the one connection everyone assumes but can’t believe you would actually be interested in doing–teaching–all paths are open.

To stick with the podiatry theme, a technical program like that often means signing up for longer structured periods of learning and education. You don’t just take the four years for your bachelors and call it quits. You go to med school and then PHD and residencies and things of that nature. The path is laid out for you and so is the goal.

An English major doesn’t have the same path laid out before them. They have to pick and choose at every turn what step they’re going to take next. The path of a typical entrepreneur is pretty similar to what you might see from an English major. You start in one career and then try something else, and then move on. You’re not structured and you’re not tied into one thing, the opportunity to jump around is always there.

Being an entrepreneur is pretty trendy these days. Everyone seems to have startup fever. But for some reason being an English major isn’t as trendy, even if some entrepreneurs say they’re hiring them. Article after article complains that people are wasting their money on traditional liberal arts degrees when what they really ought to be doing is becoming a doctor or an engineer, the type of career that is “indispensable to society”.

No one seems to praise being an English major as a legitimate choice like being an entrepreneur, and one that takes courage. Since you’re not embracing the beaten path, when you stray out of clear-cut degree to career paths you’re like an entrepreneur stepping off the corporate career path. It takes just as much courage, but gives just as much satisfaction and can be just as rewarding. You can have a richer variety of experiences and even more freedom.

Freedom comes with a price though. Uncertainty. It’s the same price that makes people decide being an English major is too risky. It’s may be risky, and it’s not for everyone. But if you can deal with the uncertainty and you want to, why not?

SONY DSC

Christmas music is either a love it or hate it. I don’t think there’s any ground in between, at least if you tend to have opinions about music. But my point wasn’t really to draw the line in the sand and ask you which side you are on in the irreconcilable Christmas Music Conflict.

There’s been lots of speculation or satire about why Christmas music is so popular. I’d be tempted to agree with xkcd that Christmas music an “attempt to recreate the Christmases of Baby-Boomers’ childhoods” if it weren’t for how many of my own generation seem to appreciate it. Most of the music is indeed pretty vintage, but then there are all the modern artists who want to put their own twist on it. Not by writing new songs of course, but by making slightly less good versions of the old ones.

A lot of Christmas lore seems connected with the winters of more extreme northern climates, deep blankets of snow and crackling fires and all that jazz. Growing up in such a climate myself, snow came as a matter of course. More often than not Christmases were accompanied with the almost synonymous atmospherical occurrences found in the songs. Now living in a fairly mild climate and being more aware of just how large a percentage at least of Americans live south of the Mason-Dixon line, it has dawned on me that the idea of snow at Christmas must actually be a foreign experience to some people.

You don’t hear White Christmas any less in non-snowy places, so sometimes you have to wonder if the songs are for some people not talking about a memory as much as an actual wonderland they haven’t had much chance to visit.

Personally I’m kind of dreaming of a white Christmas. That’s not in the forecast for Seattle of course, but it’s still in the songs. I’m not so sure that I find the music any less grating when it’s talking about something that doesn’t exist here.

There’s nothing inherently bad about Christmas music, my dislike probably comes from two of the more important characteristics of my musical taste. First, pretty much all Christmas music tends to sound pretty similar, at least the Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby genre, and all the covers thereof. The problem is that none of this sounds remotely like the types of music I like to listen to during the other 10 months of the year, so why would my tastes change in December, and increasingly, November?

The second characteristic of my musical taste that Christmas music defies is the novelty. I enjoy new music, and music that is new to me. The set of music that I know by heart and have listened to dozens of times, I have the impression anyway, is a lot smaller than the mental collection of a lot of other people.

But let’s not be bitter. Christmas music undoubtedly has a nostalgic feel for the most part, and it’s not really my thing. But why do people get more excited about it than Sweet Home Alabama, or Yellow Submarine? Anyone care to share?

It’s the best of cities, it’s the worst of cities. It’s Seattle.

Seattle is well known for it’s rain and coffee. But Seattle is bi-polar. It’s actually two different cities, one manic, one depressive, but unlike manic-depressive disorder, it never really has the “normal” state in between the two.

Winter Seattle means long nights that start at 4pm. Drizzling rain, street lights, coffee shops. Fatigue jackets, fedoras, suspenders, North Face. Hoodies. Cigarettes.

Listless stares through rain-speckled bus windows. Bus stops that never cease dripping or smelling of mary jane. Plastics garbage bags, ragged blankets, and more ragged lives on the streets.

Coffee, books, and music you’ve probably never heard of.

Damp so pervasive you don’t even own a raincoat because every coat gets wet.

Summer Seattle starts with days so breathtakingly beautiful that you don’t catch your breath all day. The sidewalks almost dry off, and the air smells like a million kinds of blossoming flowers and trees. The sun comes out.

The sun never goes away. 8pm might as well be 2pm. You ignore the fact that you ought to go to bed. It’s never actually hot, but for a few weeks you go out at night without wearing a jacket. You forget what a chance of rain means.

Long evenings overlooking the Puget sound as ferries ferry their way across the water. Not even a breath of air moving. But the temperature is perfect.

Dragging your hand through the water in Lake Union and not being cold. Boats slowly passing through the ship canal.

Bikers everywhere. Staying inside is literally impossible. So no one does. People overflow with energy and exuberance even without a coffeecup in their hand. You realize your friends have another side to their personality you never knew about.

When you’re going for a run at 7pm and the sun doesn’t seem in any danger of setting, you forget the times when you didn’t even see daylight, let alone sunshine for weeks on end.

Now the real Seattle is back. Or one of them. Rain has come.

Pierre Bayard definitely picked an arresting title. That’s probably what he was going for in a book that contains snippets of wisdom like “it is not at all necessary to be familiar with what you’re talking about in order to talk about it accurately.”

I find myself in a bit of a love-hate relationship with this book. On the one hand it’s undeniably true that, in my experience, the more a person reads, the easier it is to read new things or understand new ideas. The context you’ve built up from your previous exposure serves as a foundation that more quickly puts you on your feet in unknown territory. It helps you set up a road map of what to expect. In that regard Bayard’s premise that you don’t have to read things is at least partially true.

The hate part comes from the fact that I actually love reading. What do you mean you can write an article about a masterpiece without reading it? What are you trying to accomplish by not reading it? Your life isn’t better by just knowing what the index says. Read a book once in a while.

That’s why I’m reading a book about not reading books.

Facebook is no stranger to privacy scandals, but I kind of wonder if the latest one isn’t just a case of people selectively remembering what they posted. Wishing you’d sent something as a private message doesn’t undo the fact that you posted it on someone’s wall in 2006.

Privacy awareness has come a long way since 2006, and most of us probably posted things we’d never dream of making public now. Nothing showing up for me was originally private, but some of it is pretty amusing.

Update: a small I told you so may be fitting