Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Op-Ed: Virginia Foxx doesn't know what she's talking about

Last week, Rep. Virginia Foxx said she had "very little tolerance" for student debtors in an interview with G. Gordon Liddy:

Today, my Op-Ed printed in the Winston-Salem Journal, the primary newspaper of Foxx's congressional district.

The main points were:

- Virginia Foxx is not allowed to brag about working her way through college. When she graduated in 1968, tuition at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill cost her $87/semester. (Yes, $87!!!) Moreover, to pay for a four-year public education in 1968, a student with a minimum wage job would have to work 14 hours a week, year round. Today, such a student would have to work 46 hours a week, year round.

- Virginia Foxx is a supporter of the for-profit school industry. For-profit schools have generated enormous student debt. From my article: "Of all of the students who have defaulted on their loans, 50 percent have attended for-profit colleges, even though for-profits enroll only 12 percent of college students. The top three universities that generate the most student debt are for-profits, starting with the University of Phoenix, whose former students owe $5 billion, many of whom don't even have degrees, since only 9 percent of enrollees graduate within the standard six years."

Ultimately, Foxx is belittling the very debtors she's helped put into debt.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's official: Vandwellers are banned from Duke

I was writing the epilogue of my book, and I needed to figure out one last thing: Have vandwellers been banned from Duke as a result of my experiment?

I annoyed Duke's Parking and Transportation Services Office with calls and emails for months, but they refused to respond to my inquiries, so I--pressed for time--approached Duke's office of Public Affairs.

Apparently, vandwellers have been banned. Here's the new rule:

4.17.5 Overnight or extended parking of campers, vans, buses, etc., utilized as living and sleeping quarters within campus boundaries, is not permitted unless approved by Parking and Transportation Services.

While I acknowledge that Duke is a big, sprawling billion-dollar corporate bureaucracy, and they have to cover their asses, I still think the rule is stupid. I could name a hundred reasons why, but I've already done so, so there's no need to beat a dead horse.

Their reason? From one Duke spokesman: "As a private institution, Duke can determine the permitted and appropriate use of its facilities. Living in the parking lot is not permitted for reasons of safety, security, health and liability."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More chicken pictures


We've decided on names to give to the chickens, again with the theme of 19th Century English authors. We haven't distributed the names yet, but we've agreed on the following: Fanny and Fiona for the (light-colored) Golden Comets; Evangeline and Geraldine for the (dark-colored) Barred Rocks; and Helen for our newly arrived (medium-colored) Ameraucana. Seeing as how David and I consider ourselves monks, the new brood of chickens shall be considered nuns, and they each shall be addressed with the title of "Sister."

David babysitting the chickens.

The chickens in their cage in my room.

I take them out to the garden for a half an hour each day.

Missing from the photo is the new Ameraucana, who doesn't like her picture taken.

Fanny and Fiona.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Weekly Quote: Friendship

“A principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fullness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce. We know of stopping and suffocations are the most dangerous in the body, and it is not much otherwise in the mind. You may take sarza to open the liver, steel to open the spleen, flower of sulphur for the lungs, coastoreum for the brain; but no receipt openeth the heart but a true friend, to whom you may impart griefs, joys fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it, in a kind of civil shrift or confession.” – Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, from his essay “Of Friendship”

“Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of rivals endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1900-1944, Wind, Sand, and Stars

"The English word ‘free,’ for instance, is derived from a German root meaning ‘friend,’ since to be free meant to be able to make friends, to keep promises, to live within a community of equals. This is why freed slaves in Rome became citizens: to be free, by definition, mean to be anchored in a civic community, with all the rights and responsibilities that this entailed.” – David Graeber, 1961-present, Debt

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring chickens

We're raising four laying hens at the Abbey. The two dark ones are called Barred Rock chickens; the two light ones are Golden Comets. They've been living in my room with me, but I take them out into the garden each afternoon. We bought them from the local roller mill a week ago. (And yes, they are as adorable as they look.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Warren Wilson and the Biltmore Estate: Travels in Western North Carolina

I spent last week in a little town called Black Mountain--just outside Asheville, NC--with some of David's friends at their home called Graybeard Abbey. While there, I thought I'd pay a visit to Warren Wilson College--an unusual liberal arts school, as it requires its students to work 15 hours a week on one of many crews (farm crew, forestry crew, plumbing crew, dining services crew, etc.), in addition to spending 100 hours performing community service over four years. (The money the students make from the work is put toward tuition.)

The picture above and pictures below were taken on their 300-acre farm and garden, which is manned by the student body and supervised by professional farmers. Beef, pork and poultry are sold locally and many of the vegetables from the garden wind up in the students' on-campus dining halls.

Naturally, I fell in love with the place. After only a few hours on campus, I can't speak with authority on the effectiveness of their model, but I get the impression that students, at a school like this, would be way better off if their educations provided them with practical training in addition to the more theoretical and just-as-valuable liberal arts curriculum.

A friend of a friend (who's now a friend), who used to work at the Biltmore Estate, got me onto the premises for free (which would have otherwise cost me $60).

Quick history of the place: The Estate, at 175,000 square feet (the largest private home in America), was built in the 1890's by George Washington Vanderbilt, a railroad tycoon. Now, it's a tourist destination, employing somewhere around 2,000 locals, according to my host.

My main impression: What's the point? One does not build something like this for our mortal lives; it is built, like the Pyramids, for the ages.

There is something unsettling about the owners' vision. It is big and huge and eleborate, but there is a hollowness to the place. Vanderbilt must have had his legacy in mind. Yet is this what he envisioned: a bunch of polo-shirted upper-middle-class tourists feeling elegant tasting wine, and wasting money on stuffed animals, ornate china, and Christmas ornaments at gaudy novelty shops?

What are we looking at? This isn't a monument that was built to speak to the gods or ascend to the heavens; it was built by the opulent for the sake of opulence; it was a mere mud pile of money for the wealthy to roll in like hogs.

I suppose, though, there is a silver lining. It provides jobs. A lot of the acreage was sold off to form a good deal of the current Pisgah National Forest, and the Vanderbilts were philanthropic. And I suppose--despite the ridiculousness of the place--that such grandeur can be appetizing to our baser sensibilities.