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August 9th, 2017 by Jon Becker



Hamilton the man and Hamilton the musical are both concerned with historiography and legacy—how we view, understand, and remember the past. As Aaron Burr notes in “The World was Wide Enough,” “History obliterates in every picture it paints.” You have no control over who tells your story, and after death, your story is all that’s left. What’s left other than the memories we helped make before we exited the stage? What is our ultimate legacy beyond the things we create and the words we leave behind?

Is it any wonder then that Hamilton would write like he was running out of time? He was. So are we all.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when my wife and I had the amazing opportunity to see In The Heights here in Richmond. That musical came from the genius mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda before he gave us Hamilton: An American Musical. And, at the end of In The Heights, there’s a part of the Finale where we hear a similar theme of legacy.


At the end of the show, the main character, who had been dreaming of a life out of the rat race in New York City and in his parents homeland of the Dominican Republic, reaches the realization that he needs to stay in New York. He needs to be the one to “tell the stories of the neighborhood, his home.”

So it seems pretty clear that Miranda is drawn to this theme of legacy, and more specifically who gets to tell our story after we are gone.

In a post from a few months ago, I wrote about pigeonholing myself and finding my lane as a scholar. I continue thinking about that, but Lin-Manuel Miranda now has me thinking about it from the perspective of legacy. When I’m done (formally, at least) professionally, what will my legacy as a scholar be? 

Maybe I’m just being a typically neurotic Jew1, but I can’t stop thinking about this existential question.

Increasingly, I think we have more control over our legacy than in the past. That is, we can be conscious of the digital bread crumbs and artifacts we produce and leave behind, and we can even attempt to curate them on the fly in the form of ePortfolios and by tending to things like our Google Scholar profile (which I have failed to tend to). This gets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s questions about who ultimately gets to tell our story. More and more, we can shape how that story gets told.

But, mostly, I believe that our legacy is not something we can really control; it is in the perceptions of others. All we can do is do good things and good work and hope that people remember us for having done that. I often tell myself that good things happen for good people who do good work.

Thus, my focus moving forward is on being a good person and doing good work. The rest will take care of itself2.


  1. It is my experience that Jews tend to worry about things like whether or not a critical mass of people will show up at their funeral. We are so neurotic… []
  2. at least that’s what I am telling myself []

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August 3rd, 2017 by Jon Becker

Nothing to see here…

Image courtesy of Tijakool Yiyuan

Image courtesy of Tijakool Yiyuan

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May 30th, 2017 by Jon Becker

A couple of days ago, I used my Tweet of the Day post to share a short video of a speech given by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In that speech, Merkel (further) distances Germany (and basically the EU) from the United States under Trump. This is a pretty bad development, though not entirely a new one. David Frum does a nice job of documenting how our relationship with Germany has evolved since WWII. Frum has also recently written about why damaging our relationship with the European Union is so problematic (SPOILER: it’s not just about seeming to cozy up to Russia, though that doesn’t help…).

I’m no expert on international relations, so I don’t intend to pontificate in that space. I’ll leave that to Frum and others.

For me, the Trump administration’s international relations strategy (if, in fact, you believe this administration is capable of strategic thinking) is at least consistent with how he campaigned. America First, right? Furthermore, it is consistent with what we’ve seen from the Trump administration on domestic policy. First, we had the legally dubious “travel ban,” and more recently we have a budget proposal and the American Health Care Act. What do these all have in common?

Shortly before the election I remember reading a tweetstorm or a Facebook post wherein someone was explaining how they were trying to convince a friend or a relative to not vote for Trump. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect of, “I’m not making much progress because I just don’t have to words to convince him/her to care about other people.” That’s not a terribly novel insight, but it stuck with me. And, to me, this is the common thread across all of the Trump administration’s “policies.” Unless you are white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, at least middle-class, and Christian, we don’t care much about you.

Tying this back to Merkel and Germany, as per usual, there are German words for this: Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft. I’ve written a bit about these concepts, and here’s the basic distinction:

In 1887 Tönnies (1925) first introduced the terms Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, which have since served as meaningful and helpful constructs in our understanding of the concept of community. The terms are often used to describe distinct yet coexisting types of interactions or ways of living. “Gemeinschaft describes binding, primary interactional relationships based on sentiment; while Gesellschaft describes an interactional system characterized by self-interest, competition, and negotiated accommodation” (Christenson, 1984, p. 160). Or, as Craig (1993) states, “Gesellshaft refers to an impersonal, rule-oriented and contract-bound institutional structure or arrangement. Gemeinshaft refers to the more personal, caring, purposeful, and sharing type of institutional structure” (p. 305).

Like most sociological theories, these constructs have been discussed, debated, revisited, etc. Yet, I find the ideas particularly helpful in my efforts to understand our social relations in this country, particular in recent times, and especially as journalists and political scientists report about Trump voters in rural areas. I tend to agree with Richard Florida that these stories present a grossly oversimplified narrative. (Click through for the whole tweetstorm)

Similarly, Tonnies work on Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft has been, at times, oversimplified. As I wrote:

Much of the sociological research that incorporates the terms treats them as opposite ends of a spectrum. Typically, that spectrum is geographical in nature with gemeinschaftliche (rural) ways of life “dissolving in a linear, unidirectional fashion” into the gesellschaftliche mode “because of progressive industrial development” (Christenson, 1984, p. 162). It is not clear, however, that Tönnies envisioned such a linear, zero-sum relationship. Rather, one might read Tönnies as suggesting that gemeinschaft and gesellschaft are different types of social relations and that contemporary society can and should reflect complex forms of both. “[I]ndividuals will emphasize one type over the other because the ideological basis for the orientations tend to be fundamentally divergent; yet both, in their own way, contribute to social order” (Christenson, 1984, p. 163).

In other words, for me, these constructs are best understood with respect to social relations instead of geography. To that end, in 1984, Christenson developed indicators of social relations that could be used for empirical research. Here are the results of his analysis:

Christenson sums up the work this way: “In summary, indicators associated with Gemeinschaft stress family and communal bonds, religiosity, and commonwealth irrespective of personal characteristics… Indicators associated with Gesellschaft seem to stress individuality, freedom, rationality…

Community bonds + Commonwealth vs. Individuality + Freedom. That sounds like the schism in social relations I see across our country now. It’s certainly noteworthy that the Freedom Caucus seems to be driving the health care policy issue right now. “Freedom,” in Paul Ryan’s mind, is not having to pay for the care and welfare of those less fortunate; it’s the government not making us chip in for the care and welfare of others. Trump’s budget proposal guts the safety net (they call them “entitlement programs”) in favor of individual and corporate tax cuts. Freedom! From an international relations perspective, it’s “America First” and nationalism and a breaking away from the European UNION; God forbid any semblance of commonwealth should prevail in the global order.

Christenson’s scales aren’t perfect and I suspect they’d look a bit different now than they did in 1984. For instance, I think it’d be interesting to see where religiosity/salvation falls now. By many accounts, Evangelicals, for instance, have completely gone away from the ideals of community and commonwealth in favor of individual freedom in the form of religious freedom (and tax cuts). It’s also interesting to note how patriotism is associated with Geminschaft instead of Gesellschaft. I think the generally held view is that those who favor individuality and freedom and who fully support the military are the true “patriots.” But, I think this is false. In my view, those who see us as a true democratic republic, as a commonwealth, are the ones who really believe in what the United States of America IS.

This post went longer than I thought it would, but I wanted to share my thinking on the real divide that I see in our country now. Back in 2004, after George W. Bush was re-elected, Thomas Friedman wrote “We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.” I don’t much care for Friedman’s writing, but I encourage you to read his NYT piece Two Nations Under God and see how it feels in the wake of the 2016 election. And, then think about the German words Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. What kind of country are we? Do we care about other people?

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November 9th, 2016 by Jon Becker

When the going gets tough… I get reading. That’s how I cope and it’s how I spent much of my day today. In fact, I think I read everything on the Internet about the election.

What follows is not my attempt to explain the outcome of last night’s election. It’s more my attempt to synthesize what I learned today. You might think of it as my key takeaways from my day of coping through reading. I hope it helps you as much as writing it has already helped me.

Racism (and sexism)

Cutting to the chase, this election was, first and foremost, about race. And, it was also about sex.

I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that after 8 years of our first African-American president, when the Dcmocratic party offered up the possibility of the first female president. a critical mass of folks who want us to get back to a white (Christian) patriarchy was awakened. Earlier this year, Michael Moore gave us a a glimpse into the mind of the “Endangered White Male”:

Our male-dominated, 240-year run of the USA is coming to an end. A woman is about to take over! How did this happen?! On our watch! There were warning signs, but we ignored them. Nixon, the gender traitor, imposing Title IX on us, the rule that said girls in school should get an equal chance at playing sports. Then they let them fly commercial jets. Before we knew it, Beyoncé stormed on the field at this year’s Super Bowl (our game!) with an army of Black Women, fists raised, declaring that our domination was hereby terminated! Oh, the humanity!

Here’s Jamelle Bouie making the same claim:

More than anything, Trump promises a restoration of white authority. After eight years of a black president—after eight years in which cosmopolitan America asserted its power and its influence, eight years in which women leaned in and blacks declared that their lives mattered—millions of white Americans said enough. They had their fill of this world and wanted the old one back.

Any of the white male candidates from the slew of hopefuls the RNC sent through primary season probably would have sufficed for these folks.

Trump, however, really emboldened the white nationalists.

Bouie again

With his jeremiads against Hispanics and Muslims—with his visions of dystopian cities and radicalized refugees—Trump told white Americans that their fears and anger were justified. And that this fear and anger should drive their politics. Trump forged a politics of white tribalism, and white people embraced it.

And, there were plenty of white people who embraced it, including and especially those hidden from plain sight. I joked (sort of) last night that the comments section showed up at the polls. If you’ve ever read the comments section on articles in mainstream media sites, you see the anger that’s out there. And, if you know much about the dark parts of the Internet, you know what’s out there.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa has apparently been observing some of the dark parts of the Internet for some time and shared her thoughts on Twitter:

Mohutsiwa’s observations of this population of young white men radicalized online feel important to me. And, I think one of her points is worth emphasizing. She writes, “That’s why I never got one strategy of Clinton’s campaign: highlighting Trump’s sexism. Trump supporters love him BECAUSE of his sexism.” I’d say the same about racism.

Filter bubbles and echo chambers

A filter bubble is a result of a personalized search in which a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user (such as location, past click behavior and search history)[1][2][3] and, as a result, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles.[4] (Source: Wikipedia)

Folks, we have GOT to be better about understanding how information is presented to us by Google, Facebook, etc. We can’t uncritically let search and/or news algorithms determine what information we see. Facebook is particularly odious in this regard. Joshua Benton, who formerly pushed back against the idea of filter bubbles, wrote a really good piece today that I encourage you to read. Here’s the kicker:

But I’ve come to think that the rise of fake news — and of the cheap-to-run, ideologically driven aggregator sites that are only a few steps up from fake — has weaponized those filter bubbles. There were just too many people voting in this election because they were infuriated by made-up things they read online.

Some say that Facebook’s filter bubble is getting worse, though Mark Zuckerberg denies it. LOL, of course he does.

These filter bubbles we live in online are augmented by the echo chambers we put ourselves in both online and offline. With respect to our face-to-face lives, Marco Rogers’ tweetstorm really resonated. I’ve included only select parts of it below:


We (white liberals) know exactly what Marco means. We know about our liberal enclaves in the suburbs (I’ll include myself as a suburbanite, though I don’t think my part of town is particularly liberal) and even within inner cities (see e.g. places like Park Slope in Brooklyn). From my perspective, liberals don’t like to admit it, but homophily is alive and well in the way we domicile ourselves. As a result, says, Marco, “[w]hite liberals have walled themselves off from the reality of the racism in their community.”

In sum, then, we have walled ourselves off from the realities of racism and when we go online, filter bubbles reinforce our biases. We deny this and then we’re “shocked” at the results of the election.

Big country

I have vivid memories of my days doing field work as an educational researcher. I spent the better part of a year driving up and down, in and out of the hollows of West Virginia. I remember clearly driving through rural Ohio to find a middle school in Gnadenhutten, Ohio. And I’ll never forget driving from one school to another within the Houston Independent School District (HISD) in Texas. Everything really is bigger in Texas and it would sometimes take me over an hour to get from one school to another within the same school district. And, for much of my time in rental cars driving through different parts of the country, I was thinking about the vastness of our nation and passing random homes or trailers and wondering about the story of the people in those homes. So many homes, so many people. And, I was barely seeing the tip of the iceberg.

I share this to say that I’ve also been telling people that I was worried about the election because our country is so much bigger, so much more vast than most of us know or care to know. And, those vast parts of our country contain lots of people who were disengaged and, who had become increasingly disenfranchised and depressed. In predicting Trump’s victory this summer, Michael Moore wrote about what he called our Rust Belt Brexit:

From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England – broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we use to call the Middle Class. Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.

False positivism

Speaking of Brexit…

I don’t know why we didn’t take to heart the failures of polling around that event. For me, those polling failures came on the heels of a more local polling failure. When Eric Cantor lost his House seat to Dave Brat, the people of the greater Richmond area were completely shocked. The polls gave Brat practically no chance, and, yet, he unseated Cantor.

So, I should be ashamed that I got sucked in by the Nate Silver’s of the world who had me believing that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election. Silver’s estimates were more conservative than others, but even on the day of the election, he was still giving Clinton at least a 70% chance of winning. Alas…

Nathan Jurgenson wrote a great post about “factiness”:

Factiness is the taste for the feel and aesthetic of “facts,” often at the expense of missing the truth. From silly self-help-y TED talks to bad NPR-style neuroscience science updates to wrapping ourselves in the misleading scientisim of Fivethirtyeight statistics, factiness is obsessing over and covering ourselves in fact after fact while still missing bigger truths.

I believe it was on Twitter than Jurgenson was lamenting Nate Silver’s work which he suggested was creating a feeling of “faux precision.” To me, this is part of a larger problem of false positivism. Dave Cormier and Lawrie Phipps co-authored a post about this in which they wrote:

2016 has taught us that we cannot rely on analytics, and in fact analytics may have had a negative impact. The most correct predictions of #Brexit and #Trump came from commentators who were not relying on the polling data but were paying attention to the narratives that were created.

Later in the day, I read a tremendous piece by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford in the UK. In the piece, Nielsen calls for more of a mixed-methods approach to data journalism in politics.

I think it is clear we don’t know how most people feel about politics and how it ties in with other aspects of their lives and identities. Yes, we may know that some of them are not very interested, don’t like it very much, or are quite partisan. But what does that actually mean? I don’t think we know… In my view 2016 shows we need to start qualitatively researching the (diverse, fractious, fascinating) majority too, and see whether a better, evidence-based understanding of how people relate to politics and public life can help us get it right next time.

Politics are about human behaviors. To understand politics, therefore, we can’t just treat people as quantitative data points. We need to also understand them as humans; to hear and tell their stories. Instead, we were mesmerized by the whizbang statistical models and fancy data visualizations of Nate Silver and other pundits/prognosticators. What we really needed was to talk to and hear each other at scale.

Moving forward

So, now what? What can we do beyond understanding our filter bubbles, getting out of our echo chambers, and doing more thorough, narrative research? Well, this morning, Michael Moore gave us (well, me; I shouldn’t assume you’re on the same side as Michael Moore) a five-part plan. I think that’s a good starting point.

Additionally, I want to make a plea for empathy and for understanding. On the latter, I learned a long time ago that we all mourn differently. For those of us mourning the loss of this election, I ask you all to not judge how we mourn. It will go differently and at different paces for each of us. On the former, I just think empathy should always lead. Please try not to say things like “It will be OK,” because it might just not be OK, particularly for those particularly at-risk. And, “relax” is about the worst thing you can say. Empathy works so much better. So, moving forward, let’s start there.

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August 29th, 2016 by Jon Becker

What would you think if I sang out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends…

-Ringo Starr as Billy Shears in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

I am the son of a woman who taught in the public schools in the South Bronx, NYC.

I became a professor of education in large part to be an advocate for public schools.

And then my wife and I had kids and sent them to an independent school.

And, tomorrow, my daughter will show up for her first day of first grade in that independent school.

But, not my son. He is eleven. He won’t be going to school of any kind.

That is, tomorrow, this son of a public school teacher and devout supporter of public schools will be the parent of one private school student and a homeschooled child.

What would you think if I sang out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me?...

It sure feels all out of tune, at least for the moment. Some day, I’ll write up the backstory (or the origin story as my son, the superhero fan, might like to call it). For now, though, I want to tell you a little about my son and then ask for a little help from my (edu)friends.

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song
And I’ll try not to sing out of key

This is all a bit personal, so I ask that you lend my your ears and I’ll try to sing his song in key…

A psychologist who once evaluated my son wrote in a report that he is “likely on the autism spectrum disorder.” That’s as close to an actual diagnosis as we’ve gotten, and, frankly, we don’t need anything more official. Some might say he has Asperger Syndrome. Some might say he’s a high-functioning autistic (HFA). I just say that he’s not neurotypical.

If you were to meet my son, you wouldn’t immediately notice anything “atypical,” especially if you’re an adult; he loves talking to adults. He doesn’t have much use for other kids, though.  And, that’s pretty characteristic of kids on the spectrum. He has some other pretty classic non-neurotypical features as well. For example, he has some pretty serious sensory integration challenges. Big crowds and loud cacophonous spaces are a problem for him. He’s never worn jeans; he always wears sweatpants or shorts. I could go on…

Schools are designed for neurotypical kids, especially public schools, I would argue. But, my son never went to public school. From preschool through 4th grade, he attended a small, progressive independent school with a “child-centered” orientation1. And, I love this school dearly. I’m on the board of directors. My daughter is thriving there. My son never did. He just never wanted to be in school, anywhere.

In an article about the school from 6 years ago, the Executive Director said of the school that “…the approach isn’t right for every child — an extremely introverted kid, or a fiercely independent learner, or one that learns better in a more structured school environment, for example.”

Fiercely independent learner. That’s exactly my son.

So, after much, much, MUCH deliberation, consultations, visits to other schools (some supposedly specifically for children with special needs), and tears (lots of tears), we decided to offer my son what he has always wanted: to be a fiercely independent learner in his own way and on his own time.

A couple of months ago, my wife sent in the requisite letter and last month we received the official letter from the county we live in that my son was officially a homeschooler.

Oh I get by with a little help from my friends…

And so this is where we’ll need a little help from our friends.

We’ll need help in the form of emotional support. This is no small undertaking.

And, we’ll also need a little help with ideas: activities, books, videos, resources, etc.

To shape that kind of help, here’s a bit more about my son:

  • He reads. Voraciously. Like as in most of the day. He reads books (novels, comic books, non-fiction books, etc.) and websites (mostly wikis like the Marvel Cinematic Universe wikia).
  • He’s “twice exceptional,” meaning he also qualifies as gifted. That matters because, well, in my mind it means he’ll be just fine.
  • He’s an autodidact. The stuff he learns on his own and teaches me on a daily basis blows my mind.
  • One “feature” of being non-neurotypical is that he has a very low frustration tolerance. So, if he struggles with any task, he’s unlikely to work through the struggles. This makes it very difficult to read or hear those who advocate for maker education principles and who say “every kid is a maker.” My son is not a maker.
  • He loves all things Marvel, Harry Potter and Ninja Turtles. Ideally, we’d use these as frames for as many learning experiences as possible. So, a video on the physics of Ant-Man’s transformation in Civil War is like a dream educational resource for us. More of those, please.
  • He is passionate about becoming an environmentalist. He’s going to save the environment; don’t doubt him. So, any resources around environmental education will be greatly valued.
  • He has become interested in news and politics. He loves a good political conversation.

If there are five different approaches to homeschooling2, we’re much more inclined towards the unschooling approach. So, we’re not necessarily looking for whole curricula. We’ll cobble together different activities and resources and, mostly, let him lead the way. My dreams include encouraging him to blog throughout his homeschooling journey. If his guest post on my blog is any indication, he’ll do well there. I would also like to explore coding/programming with him. We’ll learn that together. I might introduce him to other resources including Khan Academy (gasp!) and MOOCs (double gasp!). Seriously, I think my eleven year-old son would love MOOCs, especially ones about superheroes.

The work of homeschooling my son will disproportionately fall on my wife. She has made an unbelievable commitment to this new phase of parenting. I’m certain it won’t all go beautifully. She will butt heads with my son; she, too, is fiercely independent. It could all be a big, glorious mess. We’ll see.

I look forward to my time with my son in our next phase of learning and parenting. And, I look forward to whatever support and resources you can offer. That’s what the comments section below is for. 🙂

Thanks, friends…

  1. yes, I know that “progressive” and “child-centered” is probably redundant []
  2. I don’t think that’s quite right; it’s more of a spectrum, IMHO []

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May 16th, 2016 by Jon Becker

[And now for something a little different… After reading a number of articles/posts ranking the (now) 13 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, I thought I should bring a REAL expert to the table. Step aside, y’all, because the sheriff is in town. My 10 year-old son, Drew, is a self-proclaimed Marvel comics geek and knows more about the MCU than you can imagine. So, I invited him to write a guest post to add to the genre of MCU movie rankings. Without further ado, here’s Drew…]


Hi, my name is Drew and I am a freshly crowned Marvel comics geek (since October last year). I am going to rank the MCU movies from worst to best. Keep in mind that I LOVE THEM ALL!!! I’m just ranking them by how much I love them.

13. Iron Man

I know, normally this movie is everyone’s favorite, but I don’t really like the Iron Man movies in any particular way more than the others. It could be because I don’t particularly like violence and this is definitely the most brutal of the bunch. On the bright side, this movie begins the MCU with some great characters including Tony, Pepper, and even Agent Coulson, who I like even more now that I finally started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

12. Iron Man 2

Really underappreciated. I can’t think of a single reason why this is the worst-reviewed MCU movie, except for maybe a cliche villain. On the other hand, this movie continues the Iron Man movies trend of being incredibly violent, the main reason I don’t like them as much as the others. Oh, and this Rhodey is way better.

11. Iron Man 3

Definitely my favorite Iron Man movie. The humor is great, all the different Iron Man armors are awesome, and unlike most people, I actually like that Killian got his butt kicked by a female. My only complaint is that AGAIN WITH THE VIOLENCE!

10. Thor: The Dark World

As I write this, I suddenly realized that this is the one movie in the MCU that is a sequel not as good as the first. The beginning is good, the end is good, but the middle is kinda… mleah. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not as good as the first.

9. The Incredible Hulk

One of the most underappreciated movies of all time, right next to the new Ninja Turtles movie (Yes, I liked it). I got a much better Hulk experience than in the Avengers movies (which were still better for other reasons). I was seriously expecting this movie to be a lot worse than it actually was.

8. Thor

The gods of Norse mythology and Marvel Comics were portrayed wonderfully in this movie. I like the modern sci-fi elements, like the Bifrost being a wormhole or Yggdrasil being a cosmic nebula. And unlike most people, I think Thor and Jane make a good couple.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger

I really liked this way to introduce Captain America into the MCU. Very different from the WWII-era Timely Comics. My favorite change was making Bucky, instead of Cap’s teenage sidekick, his best friend that everyone knocks Cap over on the way to see.

6. The Avengers

Yes, I know it’s supposed to be #1 or #2, but sixth place isn’t bad. It’s very different from the origin of the Avengers in the sixties comics, which I just read. Also, Thanos’s cameo in this is perfect, setting up INFINITY WAR!

5. Ant-Man

Yes, I like this better than The Avengers. Sue Me. The humor in this was great, and I really like the effects of the shrinking and growing. And, Cassie is adorable. And the showdown between Ant-Man and Falcon was awesome.

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron

I actually liked this better than the first . The twins were awesome, Ultron was horrifying, and I only have one complaint. And, that would be that THEY KILLED QUICKSILVER IN HIS FIRST APPEARANCE THAT WASN’T A POST-CREDIT SCENE AND HE HAD SO MUCH POTENTIAL AND HE WAS HILARIOUS AND AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHH SMASH!… so, yeah.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy

I’m sure someone is gonna go and say, “Hey, I only like serious stuff, blah, blah, blah!” But, deep down inside, we’re all suckers for goofy, heartfelt movies like this. Oh, and Star-Lord was perfectly cast from my personal favorite movie of all time, The Lego Movie!

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This movie was my favorite until May 6. This movie sent ripples through the MCU and my brain’s awesomeness center. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this movie.

1. Captain America: Civil War

Mission report. May 6, 2016. Mission report. AWESOMENESS! What you’ll want to hear is the newcomers. A total of eight new characters were adopted into this movie, but you’d be thinking of Spider-Man and Black Panther. They’re AWESOME. I didn’t want to put this on top just because it’s the newest, but it’s the newest and the best.

Bye, everyone!

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November 25th, 2015 by Jon Becker

I’m feeling especially thankful at this point in time. Undergoing major surgery probably does that to people. Regardless, at the risk of leaving out people and/or things…

Thanks to the doctors, nurses and staff at Parham Doctors Hospital. Since arriving there by ambulance on August 24 in extraordinary pain, y’all have been incredibly kind, competent and caring. Between then and now, I spent just about 10 days in your hospital around two different surgeries and they were not just tolerable, but quite pleasant. Every single nurse or staff member I encountered was pleasant and engaging as needed. A particularly heartfelt thanks to Megan, my nurse for 3 consecutive days during my stay last week. You are the best.

Thanks to medical technology. I’m something of a technologist in the field of education and I’m not easily impressed. But, from the surgical tools to the PCA pump (pain meds on demand FTW), it’s no surprise that I could survive what I underwent. Hug a biomedical engineer, y’all.

Thanks to everyone I work with at VCU for, generally, being awesome. I am especially thankful that, during this ridiculously crazy semester  of being in and out of hospitals, working from home while healing, etc., folks stepped up and helped me in countless ways. A huge shoutout in this regard to my #VCUALTLab team. You guys all inspire me with your dedication, creativity and commitment to the cause of learning innovation and student success. You also humble me with your care and kindness; every single one of you.

Thanks to my parents who drove down from New Jersey to Richmond, VA immediately  after my first surgery so that I could recover in relative peace while they helped my wife with the kids and general household endeavors. And, thanks mom and dad for being there even when you weren’t actually there.

Finally, thanks to my wife and kids. In the last 3 months (3 months!), we endured two major surgeries, sold a house, packed a house, bought a house, moved a house, and more… and that’s above and beyond the usual craziness of life. And, because of those surgeries, I was rendered pretty useless beyond basic transactional tasks. My wife is a genuine superhero, y’all.





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March 5th, 2014 by Jon Becker

I have some new and amazing teammates at Online@VCU. At some point, I’ll “announce” or “introduce” the team.  For now, all you need to know is that Dr. Lisa Phipps, aka Professor Figment, is part of our team. She joined the team in January from the faculty of the VCU School of Pharmacy.  Among other things, Lisa brings energy and enthusiasm to the team. Apparently, she brings more awesomeness than I knew.

Today, I received a text message from Professor Figment. In three parts, it said:

So, what had happened was…one of my students, who just went through thyroid cancer, is hosting a fundraiser where you sponsor someone and they get their head shaved. She’s having trouble gaining traction. So today some of the students started the “I will if Dr. Phipps will” or “I would pay money for Dr. Phipps to do it!” stuff, so I just started a page and told them that if I reach my goal, I will do it. So here is the link, in case you want to help my students get to see their professor get her head shaved. And feel free to spread the word to anyone and everyone. All donations are tax deductible.

I tweeted it but I don’t have 10,000 followers. 😁

Oh and it’s for research in childhood cancer.

I’m the brother of a cancer survivor (in fact, my sister is now a high-ranking communications executive at the American Cancer Society). So, this hits home.

Please join me in raising money for childhood cancer research. Let’s get Professor Figment’s head shaved!

(Rock on, Dr. Phipps!)


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November 30th, 2013 by Jon Becker

[NOTE: For the “jump the snark” language, I owe credit to Gardner Campbell.]

It was a lovely Thanksgiving morning and I was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my wife and two kids (my son is 8 and my daughter is 4). While watching, I had Janetter up and running on a laptop so I could occasionally check Twitter to see what friends and those I follow were saying. Watching a major TV event with Twitter as a backchannel (of sorts) is one of my favorite uses of Twitter. As the performance by the cast of Kinky Boots began, I took to Twitter to chime in. I posted a mostly snarky/sarcastic tweet as I’m inclined to do. I feel like that has become a part of my identity on Twitter; I just don’t take myself too seriously in that space and like to joke around.

Later that day, I learned that a screenshot of my tweet was being used on the Huffington Post Gay Voices site as part of a story about the outrage by the right wing to the inclusion of Kinky Boots in the parade. I was (and still am) horrified. While the sarcasm intended by my tweet1 was clearly not obvious, anyone who knows me even a little bit knows how mislabeled I am in that post. Since the post ran, I have received countless replies from people who had not followed me to that point and who, evidently, took the HuffPo piece at face value. I won’t share those replies here as many of them are NSFW. The replies continue to flow in, even as I write this post. I also received one very nasty email2.

There is a lot to be learned from this episode, and I’m still processing it all. For now, I’ll just say a few things.

To those who took this occasion to use me as the target of their LGBTQ advocacy campaign, please, PLEASE direct your efforts elsewhere3. First of all, I am on your team; I have ALWAYS been a strong supporter of equity and social justice, especially for those underrepresented in the democratic processes. You’re barking up the wrong tree. Second, I have no power to effect change on the issues about which you and I care deeply . Please consider using your considerable voices to address policymakers and continuing to mount serious legislative campaigns for gay rights. I’ll support you 100%; I always have. In fact, I hope you’ll consider joining me in efforts to get gay marriage legalized in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I live now. That would be fantastic.

To those who responded to perceived hateful language with nasty, hateful language… well, I don’t even know what to say other than hypocrisy and ad hominem attacks get us nowhere.

To the editors of The Huffington Post Gay Voices site, I hope you’ll do better next time. I’m no journalist, and I don’t even know if HuffPo counts as journalism. But, it seems to me there was a time when people did a little homework before publishing something to a wide audience. Consider adopting some kind of standard of evidence as you mount advocacy campaigns through your widely read publication. You have a powerful platform, and, as you know, with great power comes great responsibility. Just a little bit of research on your part might have led you to realize who I am, what I stand for, and, therefore, the intended sarcasm of my tweet. Cherry picking tweets and decontexualizing them to craft an argument is bad rhetorical practice by any standard of which I am aware.

Ultimately, I think my friend and colleague Gary Stager is right. He sent me a DM which said, in part, “comedy is hard.” Indeed, Gary. Thanks for the reminder.

I’m not ready to give up on social media, yet, but this event has shaken me. It’s incredibly frustrating that the vast majority of those who chose to attack me on Twitter won’t see this post because they don’t follow me and likely have little to no connection to anyone who is in my Twitter network. Social media and networked life is complicated that way. For now, I’ll probably reassess my comedy routine and stick to the boring Twitter updates. #GoDuke (that’s not offensive, right?).

  1. FWIW, I’d say the tweet was 90% sarcastic. The other 10% was concern over having to use the moment of the parade to define the word “kinky” for my 4 year-old daughter []
  2. I also received a couple of very nice emails and DMs; thanks to those of you that took the time to offer kind words []
  3. BTW, it takes a couple of bunnyhops of logic to get this to be about “gay rights.” But, that seems to be the issue most of my attackers are addressing. See e.g. the regular use of the word “homophobe.” []

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