Eulogy for my mom

Jane Brannon Little Mahaley

She was a pioneer.  What do we mean by ‘pioneer’?   A pioneer is a person that is brave.  A pioneer is a person who is curious and driven.  A pioneer is a person who gets things done.  A person who readily gives up convention for discovery of something new.   A pioneer has courage, stamina, grit.  A pioneer is willing to go it alone, but makes way for others.

Mom was a pioneer.

She saw no boundaries to what she could do, her fierce independence stemming from a childhood that, while guided by a loving mother, was punctuated by the sudden death of her father. 

But in the way that life provides us with cycles and parallels, she was to meet a young man who shared that pain, having lost his own mother when he was just a boy.  That young man would become her husband, and together they would have 5 children.

Life in Mom’s household – for it was hers more than anyone’s – was an experience of continued guidance and sometimes forced learning:  how to sew buttons on shirts; how to make a salad; how to hoe a row; how to identify plants and animals; how to grind wheat; and the many potential uses of a wooden kitchen spoon.

We all grew up in her light, occasionally bearing the brunt of her sly humor as she rousted us from bed in the early hours of an early April day to ‘come quick!  There’s a cow in the back yard!’.  As we all clamored to be the first to the window – peering out in anticipation of such an outlandish sight – mom giggled to herself and then more loudly as we turned, realizing that it was in fact April 1st.

Brave, curious, driven.  A pioneer, Mom became curious about the skies and saw no reason why she shouldn’t be able to fly an airplane up into it.  As a member of the Petticoat Pilots in North Carolina, she trained and flew a rented Cessna 152 out of the then regional airport called Raleigh Durham.  I have memories of being inside that tin can with an engine and wing as mom called for clearance…. Taxiing… taking off… bouncing into the blue. 

Self-sufficiency, a hallmark of pioneers – Mom engrained that value and expectation in all of us.  Why pay for something you could just as easily – perhaps even more easily and certainly more cheaply – do for yourself?  Among the many many examples –

  • Sewing our clothes
  • Making rugs out of our worn clothes
  • Grinding wheat at home to make our own bread
  • Driving to the local dairy to get the milk ‘first hand’
  • Getting chickens to have our own eggs
  • Canning and freezing things we grew, or bought from local farmers
  • Taking a class, buying the tools, and becoming the mechanic to our family car
  • Taking another class (MUCH later in life) and learning how to repair small engines so she could keep her weedeater going
  • Taking a class and then ordering a full-sized loom (for those rugs she was going to make)

Mom served for many years as a camp host up at Balsam Mountain, and for some years would appear at the local visitor’s center dressed in period farmer / pioneer dress – demonstrating the early ways of invention, production, self-sufficiency and survival…

And, in the tragic way that life can deal us devastating parallels – much as she lost her father just as a child, she lost her husband just as they were beginning a golden chapter of togetherness.  Robbed.  Cheated by illness that took her life partner from her, just as she finally got time with him.  

So, she started over and built a solo life for herself, especially after her own mother’s passing, connecting to and relying on that inner curiosity, drive, and disregard for convention.  She heated with wood, kept her favorite cat in good health, locked the hubs and chained the tires in winters, and stayed on the mountain she and her life partner chose together.   Perhaps strengthened by her early experience with loss, but certainly lifted up by her children and friends – she succeeded – receiving multiple recognitions and awards for her service as a park volunteer, and becoming more and more of a grandmother as we all brought new kids into the world.

She went it alone for much of this time; but made way for all of us.

A pioneer – with courage, stamina and grit.

And now.  The fuel for her stamina finally spent, she has left this earth, making as one of her wishes a gift of her own body to science, so that others may learn – she is *still* teaching us – and so that others may not know the struggle of the inner loss she has experienced over the past few years.

The love we all have for her is immeasurable, and now it is up to us to determine, for ourselves, perhaps even risking convention, what new challenge we will set for ourselves.  What new skies we will fly into.  And how we too may be pioneers, like our amazing mother. 

May she rest in peace.


The 4th Industrial Revolution… really?

As I’ve posted earlier, questioning whether rising tides do, in fact, lift all boats, I find this article by a couple of South African academics to be compelling. We really must think critically about the narratives and ideological frames that are espoused in the halls of leadership and management thinking – and look more aspirationally at what innovations can (and should) mean for ALL people.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: a seductive idea requiring critical engagement

Technological innovation can indeed be beneficial for the working class. Photo by JNS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Ruth Castel-Branco, University of the Witwatersrand and Hannah J. Dawson, University of the Witwatersrand

Narrative frames are fundamental to unifying ideologies. They frame what is possible and impossible, which ideas can be accepted and which must be rejected. In her book, Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics, storyteller and political analyst Nanjala Nyabola examines the framing of the Fourth Industrial Revolution narrative in this light.

She argues that it is being used by global elites to deflect from the drivers of inequality and enable ongoing processes of expropriation, exploitation and exclusion. During a recent policy dialogue on the Future of Work(ers) she commented:

The real seduction of this idea is that it’s apolitical. We can talk about development and progress, without having to grapple with power.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s chief ideologue is Karl Schwab, chair of the World Economic Forum who published an influential book by the same name. In it he argues that digital innovations are transforming the ways in which people live, work and relate to one other. These include artificial intelligence and robotics, quantum cloud computing and block chain technology.

Compared to previous industrial revolutions, he maintains, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is evolving at an exponential pace, reorganising systems of production, management and governance in unprecedented ways.

But there is growing critique, particularly from the global South, of this capital-friendly framing of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Many are questioning whether it should be considered a revolution at all.

The available evidence suggests that the proliferation of digital technologies has been highly uneven, driven by an older generation of technological innovation, and used to reproduce rather than transform unequal social relations.

We share the view that there is nothing predetermined or linear about what digital technology is developed, how it is used, and for what end. The challenge is how to harness digital innovations to improve the conditions of work and life, while holding capital accountable.

Arguments against

Historian Ian Moll questions whether the current myriad of digital technological innovations constitute an industrial revolution. After all, revolutions are not characterised by technological changes alone. Rather they’re driven by transformations in the labour process, fundamental changes in workplace relations, shifts in social relations and global socioeconomic restructuring.

The industrial revolution, for example, gave rise to factories that changed how people worked as well as where they lived. The centralisation of workplaces saw growing urbanisation, deepening class divides between the rich and the poor. It also saw the emergence of trade unions.

It is clear that digital technologies are reshaping the structure of the labour market and conditions of work. They are doing this through automation and labour replacement, the informalisation or Uberization of work, the imposition of algorithmic management and commodification of data.

But they seem to be deepening rather than transforming historic patterns of inequality along the lines of class, gender, race, citizenship and geographic location.

As Nyabola put it:

Data is the new oil … data points which can be extracted for profit.

Despite critiques, the African Union (AU) has embraced the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a “watershed moment for Africa’s development”. The AU describes it as an opportunity to leapfrog into the digital era, increase global competitiveness and generate new sources of employment.

Scholar-activist Trevor Ngwane argues in the edited volume, the Fourth Industrial Revolution: a Sociological Critique, that technological innovation can indeed be beneficial for the working class. It can reduce drudgery, improve working conditions and free up more time for people to engage in other meaningful activities.

The problem is that the fruits of technological innovation are being monopolised by a globalised capitalist class. Take the example of digital labour platforms. Financed primarily by venture capital funds in the global North, they have set up businesses in the global South without investing in assets, hiring employees or paying into state coffers.

This process is being buttressed by a framing that portrays the current terms of innovation as inevitable and thus uncontestable.

As Ngwane reflected during the policy dialogue:

Who can question something which is moving along the laws of nature, of history, of technology?

Setting parameters

For community practitioner Tessa Dooms, there are two potential roads:

We can allow capital to do what it wants. Or we can start imagining a world where we set the parameters for what tech should be.

Dooms agrees that the narrative of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is more aspiration than reality. But it’s precisely because it is aspirational that its terms can be shaped. What is the place of Africans in an increasingly digitised world? How are technologies affecting people’s lives, identities and access to opportunities? How can innovations advance a more just society, where people are freed up to do meaningful work? How can states use regulations and other means to ensure the benefits of technological innovation are more equally shared?

The Future of Work(ers) Research Group at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand is hosting a six-part dialogue series. The aim is to generate further debate on the relationship between digital technologies, the changing nature of work(ers) and the implications for inequality.

Seipati Mokhema, an Associate Researcher with the Future of Work(ers), contributed to this article.

Ruth Castel-Branco, Research Manager, University of the Witwatersrand and Hannah J. Dawson, Senior Researcher, Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Posted in Education, Ramblings, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The trouble with sports

NOTE – this post was drafted in early 2020.  Then COVID happened.  I’m bringing it forward now.

Imagine – It was just another day in the Records and Registration office.  A smartly-dressed university official comes in to meet with the head of Records.  Doors were closed, but glass walls opening the view to others in the main office provided a view of friendly words exchanged, and after a bit some shaking of hands.

A record is retrieved and edits are made.

I heard this story back in the early 1980’s, at a well known university.  I was well aware that college athletes had better dorm rooms at my university (air conditioned!), better meals (their own dining hall), and lots of attention from tutors and others to make sure they could navigate the often incompatible responsibilities of being a modern-day gladiator for 4 years, while also trying to achieve an academic credential.

And the Rams club at my alma mater – wealthy members who rode in on football weekends, flasks full, to enter the stadium to their preferred seating (at exorbitant pricing) – often leaving the lowly students with few or no seats to view their own team’s performances.  Money, money, money.

I realize that the reality is complicated for student athletes:  Something like 2% (to their credit, the NCAA shows that statistic on the second page of the PDF that was available) go on to have a professional career.  Only 2%. There is also great disparity in the funding of the ‘lesser’ sports, compared to (at least in the Southeast) the trio of football, basketball and baseball.  And all the pressure that the students are under to physically and mentally perform as top-notch athletes most often exercises a toll on their time to focus on studies.

In this post at NBC, *from 2019*, you can get the feel for how much money at academic institutions is going to non-academic individuals:

Below are the highest-paid Power Five coaches, per conference:

  • ACC — Swinney, $9.32 million
  • Big 12 — Texas’ Tom Herman, $6.75 million
  • Big Ten — Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, $7.5 million
  • Pac-12 — Washington’s Chris Petersen, $4.63 million
  • SEC — Saban, $8.86 million

Conversely, these are the lowest-paid Power Five coaches for each league:

  • ACC — Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, $2.19 million
  • Big 12 — Kansas State’s Chris Klieman, $2.3 million
  • Big Ten — Indiana’s Tom Allen, $1.8 million
  • Pac-12 — Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, $2 million
  • SEC — Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead, $3 million

And in this Forbes article from Dec. 2019, we see the top-paid coaches in the nation, by league (professional and collegiate):


If you really want to see a lot of 7-figured numbers associated with coach pay, check USA Today’s site out.

Sigh.  At this point, I want to point out that some stats from top academic salaries.  From an article dated November 2019 on average professor salaries in the U.S. the takeaway is this:

Top-ranked UCLA has the highest average professor salary at just over $162,000.

Just. Over.  $162,000.  No doubt, there are some shooting stars in academia, according to The Quad in 2018:

  • David N. Silvers: $4.33 million.  Columbia.
  • Zev Rosenwaks: $3.3 million. Cornell.
  • Dean Takahashi: $2.6 million.  Yale.
  • William E. Fruhan Jr.: $1.19 million.  Harvard.
  • Dan J. Laughhunn: $1.03 million.  Duke.
  • Andrew M. Isaacs: $709,000.  UC Berkeley.
  • Kannan Ramaswamy: $700,000.  Thunderbird.
  • Andrew Inkpen: $566,000.  Thunderbird.

But let’s pause on this for a moment:  The highest paid academic in the U.S. (according the The Quad in 2018) was making less than half of what the highest paid collegiate athletic coach was paid.

US collegiate sports has become a huge revenue-generator for schools that can afford the infrastructure and staffing – and the blurring of the lines of the ‘student athlete’ continues to expand.  Recently, college students in some states now have the right to profit from their image. And we’ve known for a long time of the lucrative agreements that are made between suppliers of sports wear and equipment and the colleges.


I’m all for colleges and universities having great teams.  I’m a staunch supporter of academic rigor and excellence – for ALL students.  How do we rationalize the reality that student athletes in the major sports are tied to the money-making agendas of their universities?  I have a proposal:

  • Stop calling them student athletes.
  • Use the current recruitment programs to establish “SEMI-PROFESSIONAL” teams.
  • These semi-pro athletes are NOT REQUIRED TO TAKE COURSES.
  • These athletes get PAID – salaries tbd, but something reasonable which gives them a good living (NOT minimum wage).
  • If these athletes perform for their employer for 2-4 years, and remain in good standing*, they then have the option to go pro OR to STOP being semi-pro athletes.
  • AT that point, the college or university provides the semi-pro athlete in good standing with a full-ride SCHOLARSHIP  – an academic scholarship.
  • The semi-pro athlete could, at any point, decide to go pro – but if before the 2 year mark, they forfeit the offer of a full-ride academic scholarship.

*In good standing.  I’m sure there will be some discussion, as there should be, about what this means.

Maybe with some form of this plan we could still have those fabulous games, root for our teams, and provide the players with adequate funding and incentives to be the best athlete they can be, and then later, and for the 98% that don’t go pro, be the very best at whatever else they wish to pursue.

N.B.  During COVID, I discovered a podcast that looks critically at sports.  I recommend it as food for thought.  The End of Sport Podcast.  From their website:

Leave a comment