Sleep on It

As we approach midterms, it’s increasingly likely that I’ll hear statements like these in halls and classrooms:

I can’t believe how late I stayed up studying last night.

The whole suite was up studying.

I’ve got more than 600 milligrams of caffeine in me right now.

I can’t even crash after class–I have a lab due by eleven.

I realize I am not the poster child for healthy sleep habits; I also know that I drink more caffeine than a person my age should. However, I encourage students to learn two things from my vault of personal experiences. First, if you need caffeine to keep you awake while you’re working on something, the results will probably fall well below the arc of your potential. If you’re not inspired by the assignment or the content, and it’s after midnight, all the saints in the blessed Church of the Red Bull will not make a difference. Accept your fate. Save your GI tract. Get the minimum done as quickly as possible and go to bed–and start earlier next time.

Second, for the love of all things actually holy, do not pull an all-nighter the night before spring break. You’ve got to be able to drive safely home, or to keep your driver awake on the trip.

Posted in Education, MSMS Stuff | 14 Comments


Back in the Dark Ages, talking with a friend on the phone required me to use a landline, which meant being in the kitchen because the phone there had a 20-foot chord that allowed me to pace as I spoke. Twenty feet seemed like a goodly distance, but I knew that no conversation could be considered private. It also meant that no conversation would take place after 10:00 p.m. out of respect for parents in houses on both ends of the line who had to work the next day.

These circumstances didn’t prevent me from having a private life or staying up late. They merely helped me discern what should be private and what could be said within earshot of parents and siblings. They also prevented me from taking a phone into the bedroom with me, which gave me a space the outside world had to knock to enter. I got to choose which books or letters or magazines or siblings came in.

It appears that giving young people constant access to smartphones is a bad idea. This morning’s New York Times reveals:

Of course, there have been major swings in teenage well-being. By many measures, teen mental health has deteriorated, especially for girls, since about 2008. The suicide rate for girls and boys began rising around then. Feelings of loneliness and sadness began rising, too. The amount of time teenagers spend socializing in person has declined. So has sleep. “Young people are telling us that they are in crisis,” Kathleen Ethier, a top C.D.C. official, said this month when releasing the results of a large survey.

2008, if you’re wondering, is one year after the first iPhone became publicly available.

The Times also reveals that students whose access to smartphones is limited, particularly in PM hours, have higher levels of self-confidence and mental health. Of the 66 studies conducted on the impact of smartphones on the mental health of young people, only 11 concluded that little or no damage has been done.

I have no idea what it will take to pry smartphones out of the clutched hands of students. I’m open to ideas. Share them now.

Posted in Social Media | 12 Comments

A “New” Monster

Just over 50 people in Mississippi have tested positive to Candida auris, a fungus that causes bloodstream infections and has an extremely high mortality rate. All infections in Mississippi seem to originate in a long-term care facility (sound familiar?) in a central part of the state. The fungus is extremely transmissible–it stays alive on the skin for hours, which means that many who show no symptoms will carry the fungus to those more susceptible to the problems it poses. (Sound familiar?) It is also drug-resistant.

Given the way that Mississippi responded to earlier pandemics, how well do you think people here will respond to this new issue? I get it–50 people doth not a pandemic make. However, this is the sort of issue that’s just a few mutations away from being truly scary.

I hope, of course, that C. auris is isolated and poses no further damage to folks around here. However, most people I know who are not immunocompromised stopped wearing masks several months ago. Most people I know have not kept up with a vaccination regimen, whether that involves protecting against the flu, the coronavirus, shingles, or HPV. Call it pandemic exhaustion or vaccine skepticism. Whatever you call it, what will the long-term implications for Mississippi’s health system and economy be?

Posted in Ethics, Science | 9 Comments

Windows to the Soul

In poker, a “tell” is a change in demeanor or posture that offers insight into the kind of hand a player has. If Morgan’s eyebrow twitches at the sight of a pocket pair, it’s a tell.

Writers look for something similar in spirit as they try to depict an epiphany. Nobel Laureate James Joyce defined an epiphany as “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.” If I were to describe a character as standing pigeon-toed, leaning against a wall, head down, hands in pockets, you might infer that the person was shy or fearful. Good writers use a character’s body language to tell you everything you need to know about frame of mind.

Look around you today. Watch people carefully. Give some examples–without naming names or violating confidences–of epiphanies.

Posted in MSMS Stuff | 13 Comments

What’s Real?

Imagine a classroom where a student gets so sucked into Mech Arena that he doesn’t hear the teacher ask him a question. What’s more real to the student: the classroom, where he’s surrounded by other members of his own species, or the game he’s playing, where his avatar competes against code?

I’ve always preferred “real” interactions to virtual ones. Hitting an ace in a tennis match played on an actual tennis court is far more rewarding to me than an “ace” earned against a computer by flicking my wrist. Listening to a band playing in the physical space I currently inhabit is generally more fun than listening to a recording of the same band. However, in a world where artificial intelligence can create virtual worlds–not to mention essay-length responses–by the utterance of simple commands, how will we discern reality from virtual reality? How will we cleave the truth from what we merely want to be true?

Posted in Ethics, Science, Social Media | 13 Comments

Vegas Odds

After Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley announced his plans to run for governor last week, I asked myself only one question: why would he run as a Democrat instead of an Independent?

Presley has proven to be an effective public servant. As the mayor of Nettleton, he not only cut taxes but also managed to grow the city. As the Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District, he found ways to bring broadband internet service to some of the most rural Mississippi spaces above I-20. He listens to people and knows how to work a room.

Although my wife’s elective office is non-partisan, I heard plenty of party politics during the campaign last year. I heard folks praise Presley at length, only to end their thoughts on his body of work by saying, “Yeah, but he’s a Democrat. I could never trust him.” You can almost see them shaking their heads in regret at his party affiliation.

It would be appropriate here to weep over the straightjacket that public officials put on when they agree to serve one party or another. They’re reduced to serving ideologies before they serve the people. However, gnashing teeth over the need for a viable third party is as useful as trying to sharpen a knife with a noodle. Instead, think about this: what are Presley’s chances to topple an incumbent Republican?

Posted in Politics | 12 Comments

It’s Hell Getting Old

This academic year marks the end of my 19th year at MSMS. I almost certainly have more years behind me than ahead of me. I am not ready to retire, though I have occasionally thought about it. Speaking with similarly aged friends in different professions, I’ve not been surprised to discover two reasons they haven’t seriously considered retirement.

First, the cost of medical care outpaces cost of living adjustments made to pensions. People born after 1960 aren’t eligible for Medicare until they’re 67. Because individual health insurance policies for people in my ages bracket cost several hundred dollars a month–and for those with pre-existing conditions, more than a thousand dollars a month–typical state pensioners cannot afford to retire based on years in the system. They must wait until they get close to Medicare eligibility unless they have another job waiting in the wings.

Second, they ask themselves a more existential question: “After X years of teaching (or lawyering, banking, etc.), what in the world am I going to do?” (I have a much easier time answering that question. There’s always something to do.)

So why should my student bloggers care?

The longer people my age wait to retire, the fewer job openings there are in professions that might appeal to you. This affects not only your future earnings, but also innovation in your field, as people my age are less likely to embrace changes within their professions.

Obviously, professions need employees with my breadth of experience to promote cultural continuity and to safeguard the transmission of institutional knowledge. What policies would you craft that would protect the health and wealth of retirees, but allow for young people to enter the workforce more successfully?

Posted in Ethics, Politics | 11 Comments

Done, 2022

The blog is down for the semester. Posts (and credit for your posts) will resume when the spring semester begins. Ciao!

Posted in MSMS Stuff | Leave a comment

Break a Leg

In the world of theatre, telling somebody “good luck” before the performance is actually considered bad luck. We say “break a leg” instead.

It’s odd, but we say it. Share your favorite vernacularisms below.

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments

And the Winners Are…

As you know, UComp sections get to select the topics they’ll study for their in-class essays at the end of the semester. The 10:00 section decided to study the ethics of gender affirmation surgery; the noon section will address capital punishment; the 2:00 section will examine assisted suicide.

If you find links to excellent articles about any of these subjects, please share them here. Thanks!

Posted in Ethics, Science | 20 Comments