• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


December Musings

For most of my adult life, at least after I married and had children, I could pretty much predict in one December what I might be doing in the next.

December 19, 2016

For most of my adult life, at least after I married and had children, I could pretty much predict in one December what I might be doing in the next. Like a liturgical calendar, my life had a circular rhythm.  Work might bring new kinds of challenges and the advance of a child from grade to grade, but the regularity upon which I could rely on shopping for Christmas gifts or cooking seven fishes – okay, maybe not seven, but at least calamari over linguini – on the Eve was, as I look back, a sure thing.  I am not one to take things for granted, but I did not recognize a transient quality to those times. Now, one grown child flies away with his girlfriend to spend the holidays with his father who has moved  to Costa Rica. The other has just returned from six month in Europe, a young man with his own vision and dreams, soon to be back at college. Only the calamari remain the same.  

 Although I often write about personal matters in this blog as a way of connecting life to abstract issues, personal matters are not the main topic. Law, policy and technology is, or are, depending on one’s interpretation of that title. For some steeped in these issues, law, policy and technology are a unified thing.  For others, it might be as the IHE editor has framed it, three separate topics meeting, sometimes colliding, and encased in a question mark. Depending on the concern, I stress one tack over the other. But in all cases I strive to situate these matters in the larger national, and sometimes international, context. As I tell my students the first day of class, “Never mind the exact title of this course on your transcript, I have been teaching this course for over ten years now at three different institutions.” Because it is such a dynamic topic, the content is always changing.  Hell, of late I have all but thrown out the syllabus and we simply read from the headlines. To my thinking it is always “Culture, Law and Policy of the Internet.” Given the definition I have given the internet, it might as well read “Culture, Law and Policy of Everything.”

Set against this backdrop, my thoughts this December are unusual. December is simultaneously a time to reflect on the past and to anticipate things to come. Harried with grading students’ papers and buying gifts, I have always cherished the dual nature of the season. This year is different.  As I look back I am struck by what has differences in the political landscape internationally; this time last year I could hardly have predicted the magnitude of these changes.   A blog post and not a book chapter, therefore this account will not list exhibits. A commenter to my last post summed the most pressing change up best, although I earnestly hope his description turns out to be hyperbole, as “America’s descent into fascism.”  All week that phrase has stayed with me, especially as I have read others’ accounts that echo the same concern.  With that stunning shift in the usual line of thoughts that more commonly loom over each December, it is difficult to make predictions.

I have a friend who is a professor of religion at a very reputable college. Hinduism is his specialty, so it is no wonder that he has a sideline in astrology (astrology originated in India). A month or so ago I asked him if he had looked at the progressed charts of the presidential candidates. He had.  Clinton, he said, had culminating aspects precisely at the time of the election.  Trump’s natal chart marked him as a trickster.  His progressed chart, my friend commented, bore resemblance to that of this country.  Don’t ask me how an astrologer charts a country (use July 4, 1776 as the birthday?) or even what all of that means exactly.  Taken metaphorically, however, this observation is telling.  Even if the voting analysis has Trump representing only a quarter of this country, it is he who will lead.  To where politically and with what governing qualities, those are the meaningful questions. 

I am, this friend tells me, at my “Saturn return.” Saturn is a slow planet, I learn, and so in a usual life expectancy one has two such returns. In my late twenties and early thirties – my first Saturn return –  I seemingly switched gears by jumping off a tenure track in American history, for which I had been in many years of preparation, to marry, have my first child, and go to law school.  I say “seemingly” because, as the only child in my family who could have children, carrying on the family genes would be, as it turned out, a happy obligation. And ten years prior, I had already determined to go to law school. But be that as it may, as I near my next Saturn return, I get to think about how I want to spend the last third of my life, god willing. Last week I began to consider seriously returning to Rochester where I was born and raised to run for political office. I have also thought about opening a small center for leadership development studies wherein I would try to combine the various aspects of education, skills and experience of myself and other colleagues to share with other, mainly younger, people. Maybe I will write the book I have always wanted to write and not the dissertation or manuscript I thought for professional reasons I should.  Maybe I will do all three …
All I know for sure is that I will be making this decision with much hope and in a newly complicated political season. My pretty serious surgery eight years ago awakened me to the reality that death is never too far away from any of us. And this election season has jolted me into recognizing viscerally that ordered liberty is never a sure thing. While an individual cannot control everything around him or her, we can and do make choices every minute of every day about who we are and how we want to be in this world. Going forward, I pray that the heavens shine down favorably on all of us, as well as on this complex, beguiling and challenged country.


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